Four years ago, facing flat Congressional funding and devaluation within the Centers for Disease Control hierarchy, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approached the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for an independent, expert review of its programs and practices.

The results of the $5 million evaluation are now coming in. Eight of the agency’s 15 program reviews are complete. For the most part, the scores have been outstanding, and, in all cases, the assessments are providing useful guidance for the agency’s efforts to improve performance.

Last month’s announcement of results from the construction program review is particularly relevant to Laborers and LIUNA signatory employers. NIOSH scored five out of a possible five for relevancy and four out of five for impact.

NAS Recommendations for NIOSH

Research to Practice

  • Efforts should involve experts in strategic diffusion and social marketing.
  • The National Construction Center (NCC) – now funded at CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training – should conduct the majority of r2p efforts.


  • NIOSH should find ways to provide more program resources to the construction program.
  • The program’s coordinator and manager positions should be expanded to full-time.
  • The NCC should continue as an important component of the program.


  • The program should establish closer communication with OSHA and other regulatory or consensus standards organizations.

“Those are very high scores and show how much thought and attention has gone into the NIOSH construction agenda,” says LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director Scott Schneider, who serves on the NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors. Reflecting on the voters’ decision last month to put Democrats – who had generally supported stronger workplace safety programs – in control of both the Congress and the White House, Schneider says, “In conjunction with good scores in all the other areas so far evaluated, these construction results should strengthen NIOSH’s position as it seeks enhanced funding and stature from the new Congress and Administration.”

NIOSH, unlike OSHA, is not authorized to set or enforce safety standards. It was established to conduct research on worker safety and health and to develop recommendations for improvement. 

According to the NAS report, the high score in relevancy indicates that NIOSH has chosen to focus its work appropriately in relation to the most serious causes of injuries, illness and death in construction. As a result, the research is likely to have impact for the greatest possible number of construction workers. In addition, the NAS found that NIOSH’s focus on Hispanic workers, the largest “subpopulation” in construction, is of high priority. Significantly, the NAS also found that NIOSH is engaged in diverse research-to-practice (r2p) activities that involve a wide range of industry stakeholders, technologies, training methods and information dissemination efforts.

The solid score of four in impact indicates that NIOSH construction research is making significant contributions to reducing injuries, illness and fatalities in the industry. Its development of fall protection equipment, proximity warning systems and asphalt fume remediation technology were specifically mentioned. The agency was also recognized for its contributions to intermediate outcomes in the area of musculoskeletal disorders and for the evidence it provides for standards development at OSHA.

While affirming the strength of NIOSH’s overall construction agenda, the NAS offered recommendations for improvement in some areas (see sidebar).

A full copy of the report can be purchased from the NAS where a free executive summary is also available. NIOSH’s National Construction Agenda can be downloaded here

[Steve Clark]