The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) presented the 2007 NIOSH Director’s Award to Paul Leigh, Ph.D., from the University of California, Davis, according to a recent press release. Dr. Leigh was recognized for his work on developing estimates of the national costs of occupational injuries and illnesses, and his efforts to promote the use of these estimates to improve worker safety and health.

The need to understand the costs of occupational illnesses and injuries has become increasingly important as national medical spending on all diseases, injuries and conditions surpasses 17 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Cost data are a significant part of the decision-making process for investments in occupational safety and health, for both government and private industry. These data can also help identify on-the-job risks to workers and provide a background on the potential risks of a job to workers, allowing them to make better informed employment decisions.

Dr. Leigh has worked to generate a scientific estimate of the national costs of occupational injuries and illnesses for civilian workplaces across the nation as well as for 19 separate occupational illnesses, and will be forecasting costs for 2010 through 2015. His estimate from the 1990s indicated that costs of occupational injuries and illnesses were on a par with the costs of cancer. The same estimate showed injuries comprised roughly 85 percent, while illnesses comprised 15 percent, of total costs.

“We are pleased to recognize Dr. Leigh for his work on establishing a scientific method for estimating the true costs of occupational injuries and illnesses to our nation’s workers,” said NIOSH Acting Director Christine M. Branche, Ph.D. “This project highlights the important work being conducted by NIOSH and NIOSH-funded researchers to further the understanding of the hazards faced in the workplace that will help us to focus our work to address the highest research priorities.”

Dr. Leigh provided testimony on his work to the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies in February 2008. He also recently published an article in the occupational safety and health press, outlining a proposal for using cost data to reduce occupational injuries and illnesses.

Dr. Leigh is a professor of health economics in the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research and the Department of Public Health at the University of California, Davis. He has published extensively on economic and epidemiologic issues surrounding occupational safety and health as well as workers’ compensation. His research on the federal government’s undercount of nonfatal occupational injuries, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, has been cited by others in congressional testimony. He has also published in epidemiological journals on econometric techniques for medical researchers. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The NIOSH Director’s Award was begun in 2005 and is awarded annually to a NIOSH grantee to recognize outstanding scientific research achievement in the field of occupational safety and health that has made a major impact or has the potential of making a major impact on worker safety and health. The winner is featured in “NIOSH eNews,” receives an administrative supplement to their NIOSH grant, and is invited to participate in a major professional meeting and to share scientific ideas with NIOSH senior leadership and other intramural and extramural scientists.

Source: NIOSH,