ASSE Supports Move to Department of Labor for NIOSH

The president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) thinks the time has come to consider relocating the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to the Department of Labor (DOL).

In letter to Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, ASSE President Gene Barfield, CSP, suggested that NIOSH be moved from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Servicesí (HHS) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to DOL. Accompanying the letter was a copy of the ASSE white paper titled, "Effective Organizational Restructuring for NIOSH" and draft legislation to support ASSE's suggestion.

"It is obvious that the mission of NIOSH to advance this nation's understanding of occupational safety and health issues is uniquely different from the mission of every other area of CDC," Barfield wrote. "Demoting NIOSH from its current organizational position and isolating it in a cluster of non-occupational agencies signals a lack of understanding of NIOSH's singular importance to occupational safety and health."

Oct. 1 was the stated implementation date of the CDC's Futures Initiative reorganization plan, under which NIOSH is slated to become part of the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, Injury Prevention and Occupational Health. No other agency in this center addresses occupational safety and health issues.

Barfield also noted the proposed FY 2005 budget for NIOSH is $279 million, only about $2 per worker per year for its mission. By comparison, the FY 2005 proposed budget for another HHS institute, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, also created in 1970 with a similar budget, calls for $650 million 233 percent more than NIOSH.

"Given the lack of support for NIOSH within HHS, we have concluded that the time has come to consider relocating NIOSH as an independent agency status within the U.S. Department of Labor, much like the Bureau of Labor Statistics," Barfield wrote. "Currently the risks of NIOSH losing its independence pale in comparison to the weak budgetary support it has received over the years in HHS, its isolation in CDC among health-related agencies, and its apparent demotion in the CDC organizational structure."

ASSE's draft legislation, called the "NIOSH Empowerment for the Workforce Act" (NEW Act), would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 to transfer NIOSH from HHS to the DOL. Barfield noted that this move is necessary in order to maintain its identity and focus, and to provide sufficient resources to conduct its core responsibilities which include, but are not limited to:

  • Intramural and extramural research related to occupational safety and health,
  • Development of solutions to protect American workers from occupational diseases and safety hazards,
  • Conducting health hazard evaluations at American workplaces; and
  • Compilation of information to inform the regulatory activities of OSHA and MSHA.
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