Safety 2011: It’s the ‘Real World’ for NIOSH Researchers

NIOSH scientists will be getting out of their labs and out into the field to help them understand the workplace challenges they’re researching, NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard told an audience at Safety 2011 in Chicago.

In the 40 years since NIOSH was created, the agency has created a “rich portfolio” of health research, said Howard, “but on the safety side, the portfolio is not as rich.” He promised that is going to change, as the agency continues to do more research with fall protection, construction safety and other “safety” topics that can’t be resolved with epidemiological studies.

He noted the importance of EHS professionals to workplace safety, saying, “It’s not just the government that makes workers safe. It’s all of you.”

Howard added that the vast wealth of NIOSH research, white papers, investigations, etc., soon will be available in searchable, public databases on the NIOSH Web site. While noting the importance of keeping some of the information confidential, Howard stressed the valuable nature of the data compiled by NIOSH over the years.

As a specific example, he mentioned “The Cost of Fatal Injuries to Civilian Workers in the United States,” a study that measured the economic loss to society from the premature deaths of workers in various economic sectors, by states, to society as a whole, over time, by cause of death and by demographic characteristics. Study author Elyce Anne Biddle, Ph.D., found that over the period studied, 1992–2001, the estimated costs from these premature deaths exceeded $43 billion.

Howard said the agency not only is doing its own studies, but is piggybacking on large national surveys, hoping to find out even more about workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. For example, NIOSH-generated questions about occupational safety and health will be included in Gallup’s nightly polls.

He suggested to the audience that more EHS professionals be trained as generalists, rather than focusing on one discipline in the field. “We are expanding the scope of what constitutes an OSH practice,” Howard pointed out, “and as professionals, we have to train our future OSH leaders.”

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