Challenges of Research in Migrant Populations Noted by NIOSH Director


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser, (202) 245-0645
June 14, 2010

The activity of human migration is nearly as old as the human species itself. Today, in the U.S., it poses modern challenges for occupational safety and health professionals who are tasked to prevent injuries and illnesses in a workforce that comprises millions of migrant workers from other countries.

The ways in which the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is working with partners to address those challenges through research – and hurdles that may be encountered in the research itself – are discussed by NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D., in a special edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine on migration and occupational health.

“An increasing literature indicates that migrant workers in the United States, and in other countries around the world, bear a disparate burden of occupational fatalities, injuries, and illnesses as compared to the non-migrant or native workforce,” Dr. Howard notes.

As scientists attempt to identify reasons for those disparities, “the research road is not without its obstacles – there are many barriers,” Dr. Howard adds.

He points to a paper by Dr. Marc Schenker that also appears in the special edition of the journal. There, Dr. Schenker notes such barriers as the “large proportion of informal work arrangements, use of labor intermediates, short-term job placements, and absence of standard identification data (e.g., Social Security number).” Needed to develop new knowledge are “new epidemiologic tools and methods,” Dr. Schenker says in the article.

“NIOSH stands ready to help promote the development of those much-needed research methods,” Dr. Howard states. This work can build on NIOSH’s existing occupational health disparities research program, “which can be a home for developing methods specifically suited to migrant occupational health research.” The citation for Dr. Howard’s Commentary is American Journal of Industrial Medicine 53:325-326 (2010).

Dr. Howard also is scheduled to join colleagues in addressing the issue today in a discussion at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. The discussion was organized by the Health Initiative of the Americas at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, the University of California Migration and Health Research Center, the UC Global Health Institute, and the Migration Policy Institute.

More information about NIOSH research on occupational health disparities, and NIOSH’s partnerships in addressing the safety and health needs of a diverse and migrant workforce, can be found at . NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. It was created under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Further information about NIOSH is available at