Comments: Re: NIOSH and Budget Cuts

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Re: NIOSH and Budget Cuts

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<div><font color="#000000">I respectfully disagree with a number of the points Mr. Chute makes in his response to Dr. Lacey’s original article.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000"><strong>Point #1: NIOSH doesn’t protect worker health; employers do.</strong>&nbsp; This point seems to be somewhat off-topic, since it addresses NIOSH as a whole (and the role of the federal government in worker health protection), as opposed to “simply” the NIOSH ERCs. </font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">While this statement is rhetorically charged, it is both false and a false choice that we don’t need to make.&nbsp; The onus may ultimately be on employers to implement recommendations, but that does not mean that NIOSH does not play a very important role in worker health protection.&nbsp; After all, NIOSH is often the organization that develops recommendations in the first place – particularly when it comes to new, emerging and/or unrecognized hazards (e.g. nanotechnology offers a recent example).&nbsp; Furthermore, NIOSH recommendations are typically developed with industry-wide participation.&nbsp; NIOSH is particularly well-suited to bring together companies (who may be competing with one another in the marketplace), to work together on industry-wide safety and health issues.&nbsp; Industry partners certainly have things to teach NIOSH researchers about particular workplaces and processes – something that NIOSH fully acknowledges and appreciates.&nbsp; It would be more accurate to say that both NIOSH and employers protect worker health and safety (as do workers, OSHA, MSHA, labor unions, community organizations, insurance companies, law firms, engineering firms, and many, many others).</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">To draw an analogy to Mr. Chute’s argument using a separate, but related issue:&nbsp; Who improves the health of Americans seeking medical care?&nbsp; Doctors?&nbsp; Of course.&nbsp; Nurses?&nbsp; You bet.&nbsp; Private pharmaceutical companies?&nbsp; Yes.&nbsp; The National Institutes of Health?&nbsp; Certainly.&nbsp; By using tax dollars to support scientific research that informs standards of medical care as well as the development of new therapies, the NIH ensures patients’ health in some of the same ways that NIOSH contributes to safer and healthier work environments.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000"><strong>Point #2:&nbsp; Today’s academic environment is different.</strong> Based off of my experiences working for a NIOSH ERC, the answer to your question is “No. Faculty members are not isolated from workplaces.”&nbsp; I fear you’re playing to the harmful myth that higher education institutions are “ivory towers” with little-to-no “real world” relevance.&nbsp; While this may not be true for every academic department on any given campus, I work with faculty members and ERC trainees who sustain productive partnerships with breweries, dairy producers, insurers, health care organizations, the construction industry and many other pro-active employers.&nbsp;&nbsp; Faculty members still travel to worksites, they still offer practical recommendations to interested employers and they still develop industrial hygiene and safety engineering techniques.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">The point should be made, too, that the world is drastically different than it was 40 years ago.&nbsp; The decline of the manufacturing industry, changes in union representation, globalization, diminishing state funding for higher education, the rise of the internet and a number of other societal changes have resulted in a working world that is different in ways that are particularly relevant to industrial hygiene graduates.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">To compare “now” to “then” without accounting for all of the other relevant factors can be very risky business.&nbsp; To assume that “then” was better, without more specific examples or evidence on how competencies and perspectives of industrial hygiene graduates have changed over time, borders on nostalgia.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000"><strong>Point #3:&nbsp; Elimination of ERCs should not reduce the demand for skilled industrial hygienists.</strong>&nbsp; Following this comment, you imply that requiring students to assume personal debt for an industrial hygiene education (which is what would, in all likelihood, happen if the ERCs are eliminated) would somehow motivate students more than they already are.&nbsp; I work with plenty of ERC trainees who are very motivated and energized to get out into “dirty and demanding” industry both during their programs and afterward. I assume the same was true for you when you were in an ERC training program.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">Besides, the ERCs’ primary purpose is not to create demand for industrial hygienists.&nbsp; The ERCs ensure that there is a reliable supply of them.&nbsp; The federal funds supporting the ERCs help sustain academic programs that are also being threatened by state budget cuts and dwindling federal research funds.&nbsp; Furthermore, the population of practicing OSH professionals is aging at a time when, as you mention, there is not much awareness of the value they provide to our economy.&nbsp;&nbsp; Until a hit TV series comes along and makes industrial hygiene as popular as “forensic chemistry” has become, we need to encourage students to consider a field that they might not otherwise consider.&nbsp; Without strong incentives to encourage bright students to enroll in OSH programs (incentives such as those provided by the NIOSH ERCs), we will run the risk of having too few well-trained OSH professionals and too few academic programs in the field.&nbsp; This could have grave implications for American business and workers.&nbsp; Some people might be willing to risk such a social experiment.&nbsp; Many others in the field of occupational safety and health have said loudly and clearly that they do not want to see what “might” happen if the OSH professional pipeline is severed.</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000"><strong>Point #4:&nbsp; Cancellation of the ERCs would release 17 regional clusters of highly trained and skilled occupational safety and health professionals into America’s workplaces:</strong> The NIOSH ERCs currently release highly trained and skilled occupational safety and health professionals into America’s workplaces every year, and they have done so successfully for several decades.&nbsp; Why jeopardize the future of the field for such a short-term “pay-off”?</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">Cancelling the ERC program would ensure that virtually no new occupational medicine doctors would be trained, since (unlike all other medical residencies) occupational medicine residency programs receive no support from Medicare.&nbsp; In addition to its detrimental effects on the number of OSH practitioners entering the field, cancelling the ERC program would drastically diminish the number of people who are capable of conducting new OSH research and/or teaching occupational safety and health research methods at colleges and universities (a group of people that is, like the practitioners in the field, “graying”).</font></div>
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<div><font color="#000000">I invite comments, questions and rebuttals to what I have just written. Dr. Lee Newman from the University of Colorado and Dr. David Christiani from Harvard University contributed to these comments.&nbsp; <br>&nbsp;&nbsp;<br>Ken Scott, MPH<br>Outreach Director<br>Mountain &amp; Plains ERC<br><a href="mailto:Kenneth.Scott@ucdenver.edu">Kenneth.Scott@ucdenver.edu</a></div></font>

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Created at 7/29/2011 1:25 PM by Ed Rutkowski
Last modified at 8/1/2011 11:28 AM by Ed Rutkowski