Farewell to the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety

Because potential budget cuts could hit federal agencies’ research budgets hard, the timing of the decision is unfortunate.

We'll miss the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, I believe. The Boston-based insurer announced in mid-May that it plans to close the research unit in Hopkinton, Mass., a unit that had opened in 1954.

The progress made in U.S. workplace safety and health during these past 63 years has been amazing, when you consider the nation's occupational injury rate in the mid-1950s was 6.38 per 100 workers, more than twice the 2015 rate of 3.0, and there were more than 13,000 workplace fatalities in 1958—versus 4,836 in 2015, or a 62 percent improvement, according to BLS.

Deaths and injuries on the job remain far too numerous, but there has been progress, and research work done by many experts from many organizations, the institute included, deserve some of the credit for it.

Thomas Cecich, CSP, CIH, outgoing president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, said in a statement released May 15 that its closing is a "major loss for the occupational safety and health field," calling it "a prime source of scientific workplace safety data for more than 60 years." And Jordan Barab, a former acting head of OSHA, told The Boston Globe's Deirdre Fernandes, who first reported the closing, that Liberty Mutual did significant work to reduce injuries and reduce the costs of claims. "Workplace safety is really a science-based issue," Barab said. "In order to understand what really works, you need good research. They were a major private-sector research facility. It's catastrophic to see them leave the field."

The institute in particular provided helpful research on transportation safety issues. Both because of the continuing importance of that topic and because potential budget cuts could hit federal agencies' research budgets hard, the timing of the decision is unfortunate.

The company has promised to continue funding research at some universities and schools of public health, and that's to be commended.


This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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