From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Government Regrouping May Downplay Workplace Safety

A recent announcement of organizational changes by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leaving some occupational health professionals questioning how occupational health and safety will be impacted.

The CDC’s plans, announced May 13, 2004, include grouping NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, with the National Center for Environmental Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The new name of the group will be the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, Injury Prevention and Occupational Health.

According to the CDC, the rearrangement of its agencies is intended to “allow the federal public health agency to have greater impact on the health of people around the world.” However, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) don’t necessarily see it that way.

In a press statement regarding the CDC reorganization, ASSE noted that “NIOSH will go from an agency reporting directly to the head of the CDC to an agency under the direction of interests that have no demonstrated commitment to occupational safety and health issues.” AIHA’s argument against the reorganization centers around “the loss of the direct reporting relationship between NIOSH and the director of CDC; the potential loss of funding for NIOSH in its new coordinating center; and the possibility of reduced interaction between OSHA and NIOSH.”

And, in a recent letter to Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, AAOHN voiced its complaints about NIOSH, in particular stating that the changes could be perceived as a decrease in the importance of occupational health and safety. In their letter, AAOHN stated that “[i]t is not clear to us why NIOSH would be placed in the cluster with environmental health and injury prevention. NIOSH was created as the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. It should not be watered down under an environmental sub-group. Additionally, NIOSH and over 500 business, labor, and academic partners created the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) in 1996. The reorganization will discourage partnerships and the lower level of NIOSH in the CDC structure will inhibit participation.” AAOHN also noted that NORA “has been effective in translating occupational health research into practice.”

This is not the first time this year that the current federal government administration has come under fire for its handling of science as well as occupational health and safety. In January, eleven ergonomists boycotted OSHA’s NACE symposium on the grounds that the Bush administration is distorting science for its own political benefit. In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a report that “the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented.”

The CDC’s reorganization is expected to be completed by October 1, 2004.

Sources: CDC;;;,;