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MMWR Article Discusses Occupational Health Indicators

According to an article in the Jan. 19 <I>Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report</I>, occupational health indicators (OHIs) developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) "provide an essential mechanism by which states can learn to use and apply available occupational health data."

"States and the nation can use these OHIs to measure the burden of occupational injury and illness, prioritize state occupational health needs, target resources and measure progress in preventing work-related diseases and injuries," the article, prepared by Catherine Thomsen of the Oregon Department of Human Services and others, asserts.

In 1998, NIOSH and CSTE convened a work group that "identified priority occupational health conditions to be placed under surveillance." Several years later, the work group developed 19 OHIs and one employment demographic profile recommended for use by states.

"These OHIs are intended to complement other guidelines for state-based surveillance of occupational injuries and illnesses as part of overall state and national goals to improve public health," the article says.

Data for OHIs Are Derived from Multiple Sources

In 2005, CSTE – a public health professional association with more than 850 epidemiologists representing all 50 states, eight territories and Puerto Rico – released a report compiling OHI data from 13 states. The report, titled "Putting Data to Work: Occupational Health Indicators from Thirteen Pilot States for 2000," defines an OHI as "a specific measure of a work-related disease or injury, or a factor associated with occupational health, such as workplace exposures, hazards or interventions, in a specified population. These indicators can be generated by states to track trends in the occupational health status of the working population."

According to the article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the data for the OHIs are derived from multiple sources, including death certificates, cancer registries, state hospital discharge records, state workers' compensation systems, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and OSHA's integrated management information system.

The U.S. Census and the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages are among the data sources used "to quantify the appropriate population at risk for the calculation of rates."

Current National Surveillance System "Remains Inadequate"

According to the article, public health surveillance is "vital" to preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities. However, "[a]lthough surveillance of occupational diseases and injuries in the United States has improved substantially during the last decade, it remains inadequate."

"The only current nationwide surveillance system is" the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the article points out, "and surveillance of occupational illnesses and nonfatal occupational injuries is limited and fragmented."

The article notes that national statistics on job-related injuries and illnesses "have been collected primarily outside of the public health infrastructure and rely nearly entirely on data reported by employers."

According to the article, "State health agencies that have access to various public health data systems are uniquely positioned to:

  1. Provide critical data on occupational diseases.
  2. Generate information necessary to evaluate the conventional occupational injury data sources.
  3. Link surveillance findings with intervention efforts.
  4. Integrate occupational health into mainstream public health."

The article encourages states to use the OHIs developed by NIOSH and CSTE. It adds that "NIOSH provides funding for the OHIs because they are now a required component of state-based cooperative agreements for occupational health surveillance."

"CSTE will also continue to work with NIOSH and states to implement the OHIs by periodically publishing state and national OHI data," the article says. "Based on evaluation of the OHIs and the changes in data sources and public health priorities, CSTE might add, modify or delete OHIs in the future."


More information on OHIs is available on CSTE's Web site.

To view the article "Indicators for Occupational Health Surveillance" in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, click here.

To view "Putting Data to Work: Occupational Health Indicators from Thirteen Pilot States for 2000, click here.

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