During 1980-1989, Alaska had the highest work-related fatality rate of any state in the nation, with a rate of 34.8 deaths per 100,000 workers per year compared to the average U.S. rate of 7 deaths per 100,000 workers per year. At the invitation of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Area Native Health Service of the Indian Health Service, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Division of Safety Research in Morgantown, West Virginia established the Alaska Field Station (AFS) in Anchorage, Alaska on August 15, 1991.

Today, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the NIOSH Alaska Field Station (AFS). From its inception, the mission of AFS was to combat the urgent problem of work-related fatalities in Alaska. AFS served as a “catalyst for change” by providing a scientific assessment of occupational safety hazards, such as identifying the state’s highest risk industries, the workers most at risk of fatality and the highest priority problems.

Achievements over the past 25 years

Smart surveillance to identify hazards and tailored prevention efforts for the highest risk industries and occupations have resulted in a 77% decline in the rate of fatalities among Alaska’s workers since 1990. This was driven by the 75% decrease in the number of commercial fishing and 88% decrease in the number of pilot fatalities. AFS scientists developed the Alaska Occupational Injury Surveillance System (AOISS) to collect detailed information on all work-related traumatic fatalities in the state. Furthermore, AFS and its Alaskan partners created the Interagency Working Group for the Prevention of Work-Related Fatalities  as a non-regulatory initiative for developing occupational safety interventions in several industries.


AFS and aviation safety partners began a multifaceted public health approach to aviation safety during the late 1990s. Much of this work was encompassed in the Alaska Interagency Aviation Safety Initiative (AIASI) which focused on improving safety for air taxi and commuter airlines operations in Alaska. These partners included the National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Regional Office, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, and the Alaska Air Carriers Association. The interventions that were developed included improved technology, education and voluntary changes in aviation safety culture. Marked improvements to aviation safety were observed after implementation of the interventions.

More recent activities related to aviation safety includes the development of a fatigue training tool for pilots of air taxi operations, which are common in Alaska. The training product is to improve fatigue awareness, assessment, management, prevention and training and will be made available to all pilots and aviation companies in Alaska. More recently NIOSH has worked on preventing runway excursions and mid-air collisions in Alaska.

Commercial Fishing

For the first 15 years, AFS focused its prevention efforts on improving safety among fishermen in Alaska by focusing on decreasing hazards in specific Alaskan commercial fishing fleets through evaluating marine safety training, the impact of recent Coast Guard regulations, developing engineering solutions to deck hazards and supporting the implementation of safety programs the US Coast Guard created for the Bering Sea crab fleet and the Head and Gut fleet. In 2007, NIOSH expanded its commercial fishing safety research program from a regional program that focused on hazards in Alaska, to a National Program. Since 2007, this program has established national surveillance for all commercial fishing fatalities in the US to identify high-risk fisheries and regional hazards.The program has also focused research activities to prevent vessel losses and falls overboard which are the leading causes of fatality in the industry.

AFS will continue to provide technical assistance to partners including the U.S. Coast Guard, in accordance with the newly authorized U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These activities will result in...Click here to read the rest of the blog post.