Advisory Committee Says Infectious Diseases Are Occupational Hazards

Worries that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) may be stretched too thin as it struggles to cope with emerging infectious diseases such as SARS, monkey pox and tuberculosis, plus the disease threats of anthrax and smallpox posed by weapons of mass destruction, led a federal advisory committee to pass a motion designed to help the embattled agency.

This year Congress approved $274.9 million in spending for NIOSH, about $1 million less than last year, though mandated federal salary increases mean a bigger cut in the agency's effective budget. President Bush has proposed reducing NIOSH's budget by almost $29 million next year.

John Howard, director of NIOSH, believes his budget will continue to shrink for the foreseeable future. That's what he told members of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) July 9, the first day of its summer meeting, and he appealed to them for support.

The following day, the advisory committee approved a motion that "strongly recommends the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) proportionately fund NIOSH" so it can initiate strategies for the reduction of emerging infectious diseases. NIOSH is part of CDC, and both are under the umbrella of DHHS.

NACOSH member Richard Duffy, representing the International Association of Firefighters, explained the concerns of many on the committee.

"CDC and DHHS spent a lot of money on SARS and emerging infectious diseases, but they see these in terms of general public health, not as occupational hazards."

NIOSH spent $4 million this year responding to SARS, and the institute has been promised it will be reimbursed for the money spent combating SARS, although Howard indicated that as the fiscal year draws to a close the check has not yet arrived.

In other developments on the final day of the NACOSH meeting:

  • NACOSH work groups devoted to Hispanic/immigrant workers, information dissemination, and evaluation and targeting presented their recommendations;
  • OSHA Administrator John Henshaw said he expects OSHA and NIOSH will host a summit for Hispanic workers sometime next year;
  • Henshaw said he was especially interested in a recommendation to research the behavioral change resulting from OSHA and NIOSH communication efforts;
  • Both Howard and Henshaw vowed to continue to increase collaboration between their two agencies.
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