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MANAGING BEST PRACTICES: How to anticipate future issues

January 1, 2006
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Have you developed plans to address safety and health opportunities that may occur over the next decade? After all, best practices for managing workplace safety and health require you to develop both short- and long-term plans.

Short-term plans focus on tactics needed to meet goals usually within a timeframe of several months to a year. Long-term plans help address opportunities or challenges that may be five to ten years away.

Long-term planning allows you to better manage time and costs. An average workplace may need several years to qualify for OSHA VPP Star status, for example. And costs are easier for management to budget when spread out over time. But how do you know what issues may be important five to ten years down the road? One way is to follow safety and health research. Results from research studies will eventually make their way to the shop floor — either through legislation or as an industry- recognized best practice.

National Children’s Study

Some employers anticipated changes in workplace reproductive health when Congress authorized the National Children’s Study (NCS) in 2000. The NCS planned to examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the U.S. starting before birth. Since more than one-half of all children are born to working mothers, the NCS research became an important workplace issue.

Recruitment of participants into the NCS begins this year for several locations across the U.S., such as Montgomery County, Pa. About 100 other locations across the U.S. will join the NCS in 2007.

How will an unprepared employer react if informed that one of its employees joined the NCS and researchers would like to collect environmental samples from the workplace? Workplaces that addressed this issue in their long-term plans will manage it more effectively.

Priority research

Most of the plans for occupational safety and health and research can be found in the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora/. NORA’s Priority Research Areas are shown in Table I. Each of these 21 priority areas can be further reviewed for specific research activity.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will hold a symposium on April 18-20, 2006, to discuss the second decade of NORA. The symposium will be held at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. Information on the symposium can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora/symp06/default.html.

CDC Health Protection Research Guide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recently finalized their Health Protection Research Guide 2006-2015. The guide is found at http://www.cdc.gov/od/ophr/cdcra.htm. Public comments on the guide close on January 15, 2006.

Research priorities in the CDC Health Protection Research Guide (addressing broad issues of public health) include:
  • Infectious Diseases;
  • Community Preparedness and Response;
  • Health Promotion;
  • Environmental and Occupational Health and Injury Prevention;
  • Global Health;
  • Health Information and Services; and
  • Cross-Cutting Research


Occupational safety and health

Within the category of occupational safety and health, the CDC research guide lists these priorities: 1) fatal and nonfatal injuries at the workplace; 2) occupational diseases; 3) occupational musculoskeletal disorders; 4) safe workplace design; 5) organization of work; and, 6) emerging workplace hazards. The scope of research for each topic is further defined in the guide.

Data in the guide can be mined to help determine probable or specific research priorities. For example, the CDC research guide notes that each day 15 workers die from their workplace injuries. But the CDC also finds “an average of 134 Americans die of work-related diseases every day.” The field of industrial hygiene, therefore, may receive more attention and should be evaluated for further improvement in an employer’s long-term plans.



Interrelatedness

One thing that pops out when reviewing the CDC research guide is how the varied public health areas interrelate. Work, for example, is simply viewed as part of the larger picture where people play, travel, learn, and live — and in the CDC’s view each of these places must promote health and ensure safety. Interrelatedness of occupational safety and health with other public health concerns (health promotion, environmental, etc.) is another example of an issue that some employers may want to consider for their long-terms plans.

Alignment

The CDC also talks about “alignment” with the research guide. Alignment means everyone at CDC, including partners and stakeholders, knows the agency’s goals and priorities. The CDC says investment, time, effort, and people must align and remain focused with stated research goals.

Employers, as well as safety and health pros, may benefit by aligning long-term goals and objectives with CDC and NIOSH research activities. Following the results of research activities provides early clues to possible changes in occupational safety and health. The earlier you plan for an issue the more effective and successful you will be in managing change.



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