The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) today announced the creation of a virtual research center within the agency that will better focus, coordinate, and stimulate research to prevent work-related motor vehicle injuries and fatalities. Motor vehicle crashes consistently have been the leading cause of work-related death in the U.S., accounting for more than one-third of all job-related fatalities in 2008.

Research initiatives under the new virtual NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety will address road safety for workers across all industries and occupations, building on existing studies and partnerships. The center will be hosted by the NIOSH Division of Safety Research in Morgantown, W.Va., and will link researchers at NIOSH’s geographically dispersed facilities through shared computer networks and other communication technologies.

"Formation of the virtual center reaffirms NIOSH’s commitment to reducing the unacceptable toll of occupational fatalities and injuries related to driving, which persists year after year as the leading cause of death among American workers," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "By coordinating our research through one dedicated, internal center, we look forward to strengthening our existing portfolio and engaging with new partners."

As a start-up activity, the center will review NIOSH’s current research program and identify research gaps. This process will consider all potential risk factors for work-related motor vehicle crashes, including inadequate occupant protection, driver fatigue, vehicle design, work organization, and employer policies. The process will also explore a wide range of interventions based on technology, organizational change, policy change, and worker education and training. The center’s activities will be guided by a data-driven approach that begins with the collection of injury data, and leads to identification of risk factors, development of injury prevention strategies, and transfer and evaluation of these strategies in the workplace under NIOSH’s Research to Practice (r2p) initiative.

The NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety will build on existing research projects that include assessment of crash-risk factors for truck drivers (the occupation with the greatest number of work-related crash fatalities), and studies involving other worker populations with high risk for vehicle-related fatalities, such as firefighters and emergency responders, law enforcement officers, oil and gas industry workers, and highway construction workers. Development of databases identifying the body dimensions of truck drivers and firefighters will provide data critical for designing safer vehicles. Research and outreach on fleet safety management and global road safety will help the new center to remain responsive to NIOSH stakeholder interests and will ensure that worker safety is recognized as a vital component of global road-safety initiatives.