Evaluations Help NIOSH Assess its Programs

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) now organizes its research efforts into a "portfolio" of 30 programs ranging from construction to musculoskeletal disorders to respiratory diseases.

The agency has asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to evaluate if such programs are effective, and NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard recently noted that final evaluations of NIOSH's mining and hearing loss prevention programs will be available in January 2007.

"In terms of the program portfolio, one of the serious, important issues we need to address when looking at a program is [to see] if it is working," Howard stated during a 1-day meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), held at OSHA headquarters in Washington D.C.

NIOSH, Howard explained, is submitting all eight of its NORA (National Occupational Research Agenda) sector programs – which include construction, health care, manufacturing and mining – and a substantial number of its NIOSH cross-sector programs to NAS for review over the next 5 to 6 years.

NIOSH does not choose the NAS evaluators, Howard said, and the NAS evaluators have no affiliations with NIOSH or interests in any of NIOSH's portfolio programs.

Howard said NIOSH is using the NAS recommendations and evaluations to develop implementation plans to make improvements to the programs.

Good Scores So Far

According to Howard, NAS evaluates each program from two perspectives: relevance and impact.

"How well the program meets the needs of the real-world problems and if the program is having the impact it should in an outcome sense are important indicators that determine if the program influences injuries, illnesses and fatalities," Howard said.

For the hearing loss prevention program, Howard reported that the agency received a score of 3 out of 5 points for relevance and 4 out of 5 for impact. Those ratings, Howard said, are very positive.

Respiratory Diseases, Agriculture Are Next

In 2006, NIOSH announced that it extended NORA for another decade and would be modifying the organization of its research portfolio to reflect the industries in which workers are employed.

NIOSH has organized its program portfolio into:

  • 8 NORA sector programs, representing groups of industrial sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fishing; construction; and mining.
  • 15 cross-sector programs, organized around adverse health outcomes, statutory programs and global efforts. These include emergency preparedness and response; respiratory diseases; and traumatic injury.
  • 7 coordinated emphasis areas that support the sector and cross-sector programs. These include economics, exposure assessment and surveillance.

The next programs up for evaluation by NAS are the respiratory diseases program and the agriculture sector program, both of which are scheduled to be completed in 2007.

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