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NIOSH Changes Research Priorities


By Lee D. Hager (Sonomax Hearing Healthcare, Inc.)

Spring 2006


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US is an invaluable source of unbiased, practical research in many areas of occupational health and safety.  Much of the NIOSH research is directed through a program called the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), which provides an overall infrastructure enabling NIOSH to most effectively direct resources and funding to research projects.

Since itsí inception in the mid-1990ís, NORA has been focused on about 20 high-priority research areas, including occupational asthma, low back disorders, risk assessment methodologies, and more.  Hearing loss prevention has been a key component of the NORA priority areas since the beginning, and NORA-based research on key aspects of this critical issue have provided significant new insight into various aspects of noise control as well as hearing conservation program management and administration.

NIOSH has realigned NORA for itsí 2nd decade, shifting from a focus on high-priority exposure and disease issues to eight key industry sectors.  The sectors include Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing; Mining; Construction; Manufacturing; Wholesale and Retail Trade; Transportation, Warehousing & Utilities; Services; and Healthcare & Social Assistance. Sector alignment is intended to provide direct occupational health and safety research and assistance to address specific issues as identified within each sector. 

NORA2, as it is known, will be managed by a cross-sector council with representation from each industry sector.  NIOSH is encouraging participation on the sector teams by interested individuals. Look for more information and investigate participation at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora/default.html.

What is Lost?

Some exposure issues clearly cross sector boundaries.  Noise and hearing loss, for example, remain pervasive in the agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors, with research in one area typically transferring easily to similar problems in other areas.  With a solely sector-based approach, some of the cross-sector opportunities for translating research to practice may be lost.

Additionally, the resources available for issues like noise control and hearing loss prevention are limited.  There are relatively limited resources available in this area, either from internal NIOSH staff or external experts.  Distributing internal and external resources across eight sectors instead of concentrating them on the overarching cross-sector exposure issue could dilute already sparse expertise.

NIOSH plans to put processes in place to address cross-sector issues and to use the available resources as effectively as possible, but the threat still remains that issues like noise could fall into the background.  NIOSH has collected comments at a series of town hall meetings and other venues as to which issues the sector research councils should address.  As reported at the NORA Symposium in April 2006, noise was a top 10 issue for construction and agriculture, but not for manufacturing, mining or transportation and utilities.  Just because noise did not make the list of top priorities does not mean that the risk of debilitating hearing loss has gone away in these key sectors.

Comments can be submitted at the NORA website, above.

Mr. Hager is a Hearing Loss Prevention Consultant with Sonomax Hearing Healthcare Inc.  He can be contacted at 517-647-5882 and at lhager@sonomax.com. 

Phase To, Inc. (PTI) does not represent, sell, or market any noise control materials or hearing conservation products.  References to any specific products in this or any other PTI article does not express explicit endorsement by Phase To, Inc.  PTI focuses specific attention on innovative items or products that we find to be superior in the noise control or hearing conservation marketplace.


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