Two federal programs that are on the chopping block are a “vitally important investment” in workplace safety, according to a letter sent by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) to Congress.

“This nation continues to struggle economically,” ASSE President Darryl C. Hill wrote in a letter to Senator Thomas Harkin (IA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. “But this proposal to eliminate two programs that directly help save lives and reduce costs is unacceptable. These programs are a vitally important investment in continuing to help employers and our members, safety, health and environmental professionals be competitive in an increasingly challenging difficult world marketplace.”

The administration’s budget proposal for FY 2012 calls for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (AFF) programs and Educational Research Centers (ERCs) to be defunded. ASSE said these NIOSH programs directly help the U.S. confront the unacceptable costs of lost lives from work-related injuries, both in lives and dollars that come from deaths, injuries and illnesses in U.S. workplaces.

ASSE noted that a recent landmark NIOSH study found that between 1992 and 2002, the deaths of 64,333 workers in the U. S. resulted in $53 billion in societal costs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of fatalities and injuries consistently show that the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries are among the most dangerous industries for workers. The ASSE pointed out that the American farmer is eight times more likely to die on the job that the average worker, and that ag-related fatalities frequently result in farms going out of business.

Eliminating the AFF program would end NIOSH’s rollover protective structure (ROPS) tractor retrofit program which helps farmers increase safety on their farms, and is supported and advocated by ASSE members.

The AFF also works in forestry and fishing on pesticide exposure, agricultural surveillance, ‘smart clothing’ for loggers and forest workers, and improving vessel stability.

ASSE also opposes the proposed elimination of support for the NIOSH Educational Resource Centers (ERCs) – through which many occupational safety and health professionals are trained in industrial hygiene, occupational health nursing, occupational medicine, and occupational safety. “Employers rely on occupational safety and health professionals to help them prevent employee injuries and illness as well as avoiding the costs associated with such losses,” said the ASSE.

“As the budget battle continues, we urge you to listen to our 33,000 members who work with employers to protect workers and workplaces day in and day out,” Hill said. “They are on the front lines and see no justification for cutting NIOSH programs that help employees, employers and Americans.”