The American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA) warned Congress that slashing the budget of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will have a significant negative impact on workers and their families and cause a sharp drop in the number of trained safety and health professionals.

The comments recently submitted to Congress by the AIHA are in reaction to President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, which would include a 17% cut in the NIOSH budget. The reduction would eliminate all federal funding for the institute’s Educational and Research Centers (ERCs), and $23 million for the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (AFF) sector.

According to a statement, the AIHA says it “is fully aware of the economic situation in the United States. However, this economic concern should not shadow the protection of the health and safety of workers throughout this economy.”

NIOSH is the sole federal agency responsible for conducting research, making recommendations for the prevention of work-related disease and injury, and training occupational safety and health professionals. More than 75% of U.S. occupational safety and health professionals are trained through ERCs, resulting in more than 5,000 small, medium and large-businesses being provided with aid and consultation annually.

NIOSH predicted that eliminating funding for the ERCs and the AFF program would affect worker occupational safety and health “for years to come, as fewer and fewer individuals would have access to this specialized training.”

The AIHA also warned of an increase in injuries and illness in the agriculture industry, which already has a fatality rate eight times that of general industry. In 1980, Congress tasked the institute with spearheading efforts to prevent injuries and disease in agriculture.

The association urged Congress to preserve the existing funding for NIOSH in the FY 2011 spending bill and ensure that the ERCs and the AFF program are protected in the FY 2012 budget.