JAMES D. MCGLOTHLIN, MPH, PhD, CPE, FAIHA, is professor emeritus of Industrial Hygiene and Ergonomics at Purdue University. He can be reached at
Unstable Funding, Part 2

The greatest achievement by NIOSH to date has been to fund the education and training of the next generation of industrial hygiene professionals. My article in the April issue discussed several challenges facing the profession on university campuses, including the difficulties of sustaining industrial hygiene programs in academia because of significant decreases in federal funding for occupational health and safety research; the pending retirement of faculty who came into the profession in the 1970s when OSHA and NIOSH were created; the perception of academic leaders—presidents, provosts, deans, and department heads—that research related to industrial hygiene isn’t valuable; and, most important, the threatened elimination of NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers (ERCs) and Training Program Grants (TPGs), which support student funding to study and practice industrial hygiene.

Nearly all students who graduate from these university programs are hired to work in industry, government, labor, and academia. Each year, 18 ERCs and 8 TPGs graduate dozens of students with baccalaureate (BS), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees in industrial hygiene. Also, NIOSH funds PhD students with a focus in industrial hygiene. These students graduate to teach at universities, conduct research for the government, and direct programs for industry and labor. This steady supply of industrial hygiene practitioners and researchers has enabled the profession to maintain its high degree of scientific integrity. In addition, the cadre of IH-educated and -trained students has helped replace many senior industrial hygienists who have retired or are approaching retirement age and are working part time. SUPPLY AND DEMAND Unfortunately, while the demand for industrial hygienists remains high, the supply of talent may come to an end if NIOSH loses one of its most significant contributions to occupational safety and health. The Obama administration proposed eliminating funding to university ERCs and TPGs multiple times, and the Trump administration is likely to follow suit. This time, concerted opposition by AIHA, ABIH, and other groups might not be enough to save these programs.
Why would a president propose to eliminate funding for the academic institutions that nurture the next generation of safety and health professionals? The answer at the 18,000-foot level is simple—the growing federal deficit—but the history of the ERCs also comes into play. ERCs were originally supposed to be funded for only five years before the universities were to take over and self-fund these programs in perpetuity. However, when then-NIOSH Director Dr. J. Donald Millar expanded the number of ERCs in the 1980s, state senators and congressmen began lobbying for continued funding because it was good for their state universities and constituents. In retrospect, Dr. Millar’s expansion of the ERCs was a brilliant strategic move because it amplified the impact of higher education nationwide for the occupational safety and health profession.
While the demand for industrial hygienists remains high, the supply of talent may come to an end if NIOSH loses one of its most significant contributions to occupational safety and health.
While both the ERCs and TPGs are threatened, the TPGs might be saved by a technicality. Because they are funded by a different pot of money than the ERCs, eliminating TPGs would cut into NIOSH’s mandate for training and education of safety and health professionals. But even if the TPGs are saved, they are far less numerous than ERCs and have much smaller budgets, usually $100,000 or less per year, per institution. This means fewer students can be supported from stipends and tuition waivers for industrial hygiene degrees. BANG FOR THE BUCK In the past several years, the “Friends of NIOSH” campaign has organized the circulation of a letter, signed by more than 250 organizations and individuals, to members of Congress who serve on OHS-related committees—including Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education—as well as the directors of relevant federal agencies. The letter makes the case for NIOSH and requests continued funding of the ERCs (around $27 million per year), along with other endangered initiatives such as the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing program and the World Trade Center Health Program.
While the Friends of NIOSH letter has been effective, the main reason funding for ERCs has been retained is that Congress has passed a series of continuing resolutions that sustain funding for federal agencies at current levels, delaying the details of budget cuts to subsequent years. For fiscal year 2018, which starts Oct. 1, 2017, things may be different. With the presidency and Congress under Republican control, there will be a budget, and it is likely the ERCs, and possibly the TPGs, will not be funded.
At a meeting of the Michigan Industrial Hygiene Society in March, Mark Ames, AIHA’s director of Government Relations, said the bottom line is that the federal government views expenditures for occupational safety and health, which includes the budgets of OSHA and NIOSH, as nothing more than “decimal dust.” This explains why OHS often doesn’t get the attention of Congress. So what should be done to save and sustain the ERCs and TPGs?
First, we need to better communicate to federal policy makers and leaders across the nation—from industry captains to university presidents—about our profession and what it does beyond occupational safety and health. We need to demonstrate on a balance sheet that we add economic value to our economy by improving the quality of work life. The United States maintains and promotes the best work force on earth because safety and health is a part of the bottom line and we take care of those who take care of us, from first responders to healthcare personnel.
In addition, there are several specific actions NIOSH could take:
  • Require that all students of industrial hygiene pursue a minor in business. Students should know how to present a business plan, make a value proposition, and put together a safety and health plan that has positive impact on the bottom line.
  • Require that the universities that have benefitted from ERC and TPG funding gather information on how their graduates have improved safety and health at their workplaces.
  • Provide a monthly summary to Congress of advances in safety and health research, and their economic impact, from ERCs and TPGs.
  • Expand its focus in safety and health research of ERCs and TPGs to include the business case for the industrial hygiene profession—not only prevention of occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, but increased productivity and quality, and reduced costs.
I hope our profession can implement a plan to be one voice. We are what moves America’s work force forward. Somehow, we need to translate the concept of “decimal dust” to "bang for the buck" that will fuel America's economic engine—its workers. When we expand our arguments from safety and health to the economic forces that impact American industry, we will get the attention of Congress, and instead of worrying about continued funding of ERCs and TPGs, we will concern ourselves with managing additional funds to move us into a prosperous future.

The Fight to Fund Industrial Hygiene Programs at Academic Institutions