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NIOSH and It’s Direction and Programs

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    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety an Health Administration (OSHA) were established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed by congress in 1970. NIOSH is a part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and is the only federally funded and controlled division responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work related illnesses and injuries.

    It is important to understand the OSHA and NIOSH are two separate agencies. OSHA is housed under the Department of Labor and is responsible for the development and enforcement of workplace health and safety regulations. NIOSH on the other hand is in the Department of Health and Human Services and is a research agency.

    NIOSH was created when the US Secretary of Labor was directed by congress through section 2B (5,6) of the OSH Act to “provide for research in the field of occupational safety and health, including the psychological involved, and by developing innovative methods, techniques, and approaches for dealing with occupational safety and health problems: by exploring ways to discover latent diseases, establishing causal connections between diseases and work and environmental conditions, and conducting other research relating to health problems, in recognition of the fact that occupational health standards present problems often different from those involved in occupational safety”.

    During its 25 year history NIOSH has had its function revised two times, once in 1977 by amendment to the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act and in 1995 when the U.S. Bureau of Mine Health and Safety Research was consolidated and placed in NIOSH. These changes allowed NIOSH to play the same role in the mining industry that they played in all others.

    The duties and responsibilities of NIOSH are numerous but include:

    • Investigating potentially hazardous working conditions as reported by employees or employers.
    • Evaluate the hazards of new technologies and work practices.
    • Researching, Creating and Evaluating methods for preventing disease, illness or injury in the workplace.
    • Providing education and training to individuals preparing for or actively involved in the field of occupational safety and health.
    • Recommend occupational safety and health standards to OSHA.

    Many of the efforts of NIOSH are targeted at anticipating workplace crisis and making sure that they do not come to pass. An example of one of these efforts is the many mine disaster that have been prevented as a result of the pillar system developed by NIOSH for longwall mining. Another example is the many health emergencies that have been avoided as a result of the NIOSH information hotline.

    As a federal agency NIOSH has given itself both a vision and a mission statement. It’s vision is “Delivering on the Nations promise: safety and health at work for all people through research and prevention”. The mission of NIOSH is to “provide national and world leadership to prevent work-related illness, injury and death by gathering information, conducting scientific studies and translating the knowledge gained into products and services”.

    NIOSH has given itself four strategic goals for the next decade. The first goal is to “conduct a targeted program of research to reduce morbidity, injuries and mortality among workers in high priority areas and high-risk sectors”. In order to accomplish goal number one NIOSH will follow NORA or the National Occupational Research Agenda. NORA breaks NIOSH research down into 3 distinct areas, disease and injury, work environment/workforce and research tools and approaches. Each of the three areas has specific areas of research that will be targeted. The following is a brief list of the targeted research areas:

    • Disease and InjuryAllergic and Irritant Dermatitis
    • Work EnvironmentEmerging Technologies
    • Research Tools andCancer Research Methods
    • ApproachesControl Technology and PPE

    It is understood that while there are many other area’s of research that may still have importance, under NORA these will be some of the areas receiving the majority of research attention at this time.

    The second goal is to “develop a system of surveillance of major occupational illnesses, injuries, exposures and health hazards”. Congress decided in 1986 that the ability to identify, quantify and report work-related injury and disease is vital to prevention. To make optimal use of public resources to conduct this surveillance NIOSH has created partnerships at Federal, State and Local levels throughout the country. An example of this type of surveillance is the FACE program or Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation. In this program partnerships formed with state Health Departments allow NIOSH to investigate worksites where fatalities have occurred. NIOSH conducted 139 such investigations in 1998.

    Following the investigations NIOSH gives prevention recommendations to the employers and workers. Other partnerships have been formed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to study non-fatal occupational injuries and with the EPA to study pesticide related poisonings.

    The third goal is to “increase occupational disease and injury prevention activities through workplace evaluations, interventions and recommendations”. NIOSH has 5 separate programs aimed at achieving goal number three. The first being Health Hazard Evaluations. These are conducted at the worksite, based on the request of workers, employers or government agencies. Specific recommendations will be made following an HHE to prevent hazards at the worksite evaluated.

    The second program is Intervention Effectiveness Research. These are conducted to evaluate how effective current prevention methods are at reducing injuries, when there are known hazards. The third is Control Technology Assistance. In this program NIOSH work with industry to create practical solutions to hazards that will have a broad impact on worksites. The fourth is Recommendations. NIOSH disseminates its research information to the public to have a greater impact on hazards that may affect people at home as well as work.

    The fifth and final is Respirator Certification. This program conducts site audits, investigates respirator problems in the field, studies proposed modifications, and conducts research to improve respirator use and performance.

    The fourth and final goal is to provide workers, employers, the public and the occupational safety and health community with information, training and capacity to prevent occupational diseases and injuries. NIOSH is also responsible for many different types of publications, such as Criteria Documents, Current Intelligence , Bulletins, NIOSH Alerts, Updates, Hazard Controls, Hazard Identifications, Reports of Investigations and Informal Circulars.

    Criteria Documents provide the basis for occupational safety and health standards. Each document generally contains a review of scientific and technical information on a particular hazard, existence of safety and health risks regarding the hazard and a review of the control methods. These documents will make recommendations for minimizing safety and health risks.

    These recommendations may include medical monitoring, exposure assessment, worker training, control technology, personal protective equipment and record keeping. An example is a 1998 document relating to the criteria for occupational noise exposure. In the document NIOSH reaffirms the recommended exposure level for occupational noise. The level has been at 85 Db since 1972. For occupations that exceed the REL the document recommends a hearing loss prevention program that includes all of the following, exposure assessment, engineering and administrative controls, proper use of hearing protection, audiometric evaluation and education.

    Current Intelligence Bulletins review, evaluate and disseminate new information about occupational hazards . An example of such a document is a 1997 bulletin on the commercial fishing industry fatalities in Alaska. The document uses great detail to describe the difference between commercial fishing in Alaska and other areas. Much of the harvesting is done using different machinery and weather conditions than the rest of the industry. NIOSH recommends that there be continued training with regards to the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act, aimed at reducting injuries and fatalities even further.

    NIOSH Alerts briefly present new information about occupational illnesses, injuries and deaths. They generally ask for immediate action on the part of the employer, employee and safety and health professionals to reduce the risks and implement controls with regards to the hazard addressed by the alert. An example is an Alert from December of 1999 entitled “Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Workers Who Operate or Work Near Forklifts”.

    In the report, NIOSH states that over 1021 deaths have occurred as a result of forklifts in the past 10 years. Of that, 22% occurred as a result of a forklift overturning. NIOSH give the current OSHA regulations, and manufacturer recommendations for safe operation. It then give specific case data to drvie the point home to the reader. After they have the readers attention NIOSH give its recommendations to increase safety, which include

    • Use seat belts if they are available
    • Report any damage problems noticed or occurring during your shift.
    • Do not jump from an overturning forklift.
    • Use extreme caution on grades and ramps.

    Additional recommendations are available but are too numerous to mention for the purpose of this example.

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