NIOSH’s Howard: 'Plenty to Do' on Workplace Issues

NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard listed four key areas where the agency's working to have an impact and summed up his answer this way: "There's plenty to do."

ATLANTA – Asked June 27 what he still wants to accomplish as NIOSH director, now that the Obama administration is winding down, Dr. John Howard listed four key areas where the agency's working to have an impact and summed up his answer this way: "There's plenty to do."

Howard made the comment while chatting with a few members of the OSH trade press prior to his speech at #Safety2016 here. He listed the U.S. economy's new workplace relationships – temporary and contract employment widely used in many sectors, for example – along with nanotechnology, synthetic biology (such as inserting new genes into cancer cells), and Total Worker Health as topics where NIOSH is focused and said his speech would touch on many areas its work currently addresses, including mining, ladder safety, analyzing oil and gas fatalities, workplace fatality investigations, motor vehicle safety, nanotechnology, and many others.

He also discussed two new OSHA rulemaking initiatives: the new injury reporting and recordkeeping rule and the rule revising the silica exposure limit, a rule that is based on NIOSH research now more than 40 years old. "For anybody in science who relies on data, there's never a bad thing about having more data," he said in reference to the recordkeeping rule. He said NIOSH scientists will be happy to have OSHA injury and fatality data that is as easily accessible as BLS data.

He noted that OSHA faces challenges with this rule: "It's not an easy thing to collect data in a way that's analyzable," he explained. As for the silica rule, he predicted it, too, will be challenged, including in court, but he said he hopes it will be wholly upheld, as MSHA's new respirable coal dust rule was by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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