The development of new knowledge and its timely application are as central to OSH as to all other fields of human endeavor. Because of the toll of illness and disease of occupational etiology, much of the funded research in the field has been of an applied nature, often associated with the toxicology, epidemiology, or control of exposures to particular chemical, physical, biological, and safety hazards. Historically, the budgets of NIOSH or the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to fund occupationally oriented research have been very modest by National Institutes of Health (NIH) standards. In the last several years, NIOSH has been successful in increasing extramural research funding in OSH via collaboration with other federal agencies in its National Occupational Research Agenda activities. NIOSH and NIEHS, have also supported research students via the training grant mechanism with NIEHS focusing largely on the field of toxicology.
As noted in Chapter 2, research relevant to OSH is conducted in diverse settings in the academic, government, and private sectors. In some cases research is carried out from institutional bases identified with OSH and in many others, research is carried out from disciplinary units in, for example, biology, engineering, or psychology. In the academic setting, the numbers of students who carry out work relevant to OSH applications are sparse, as are opportunities for interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. Except for doctoral programs in the traditional OSH fields, this precludes eligibility for standard NIH-type categorical training grants. Hence, support for research students with OSH interests in other fields is largely through individual investigator-initiated research grants from NIOSH, NIEHS, or other NIH sources.
As has been documented elsewhere in this report, changes in the workforce (Chapter 3), workplace (Chapters 4 and 5), and the delivery of health care (Chapter 6) present new research challenges, many of which lie on the fringes of or are completely outside the traditional OSH disciplines. The intersection of the workers’ compensation system with managed care, the ethical challenges of managing the increasing ability to determine genetic susceptibility to workplace chemicals (Frank, 1999), and the quantification of the risk of musculoskeletal injury from repetitive tasks are current research topics only dimly perceived a decade ago. All require the deployment of new competencies into OSH research, and all illustrate the need to recruit a broader array of students to study these issues. In common with most research activities, it is difficult to predict from which approach the practical benefits will arise.