Occupational Safety and Health Economics WorkshopPosted on by
In early September 2016, researchers from Canada and the U.S. convened a workshop in Montreal to analyze current and emerging issues in the economics of worker safety and health, and to formulate potential collaborative research aiming to improve and standardize economic metrics of worker injury and illness, including metrics of the under-recognized burden for workers and their families, employers, and society. Workshop participants included economists from NIOSH, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), the Institute for Work and Health (Canada), and Universities across Canada. Road safety experts from these organizations also participated. IRSST is a research institute that conducts and funds research activities aimed at eliminating risks to worker health and safety and at promoting worker rehabilitation. The Institute for Worker Health is also a research organization and its mission is to protect and improve the health of working people by providing useful, relevant research. The workshop was co-sponsored by IRSST and NIOSH and hosted by IRSST.
NIOSH and IRSST developed a partnership and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in December of 2014. The two Institutes work collaboratively to advance the protection of workers and promote best practices to improve occupational safety and health in all work environments. The recent workshop was part of NIOSH and IRSST efforts to leverage resources, address global occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, and improve the health of workers globally.
Work is an important determinant of health. To understand how to protect and improve worker safety, health, and well-being, we need to better understand the exposures and risks workers face. This, in turn, helps to identify opportunities for research leading to early and effective interventions. Estimates of the burden of worker injury and illness are key to understanding the exposures and risks, and ultimately the injuries, illnesses, and reductions in quality of life and well-being that workers suffer. Estimates of burden include human and economic costs and can be used to prioritize research and prevention.
Surveillance and epidemiology derive traditional metrics of burden that include rates and cases of injury and illness. Economic metrics build on these traditional metrics. For example, medical costs and productivity losses can be estimated for the cases of different types of injuries and illnesses. In addition to medical costs and productivity losses, economic metrics include costs expressed as reductions in quality of life and well-being. Therefore, economists can provide important and additional information that improves the ability to prioritize needs for research and intervention. This is critical for focusing budgets in the public and private sectors on research and interventions that will have the greatest impact in keeping working men and women safe and healthy.
In addition, emerging issues that include the aging workforce and the increasing prevalence of non-standard employment arrangements, pose new challenges in consistently estimating the burden of both traditional and new exposures and risks. Collaborative exchanges among researchers improve scientific knowledge and practice, ultimately reducing the burden suffered by workers, employers, and society.
Workshop Objectives and Opportunities
NIOSH and IRSST convened this workshop to in an effort to identify common OSH economics challenges and develop a path forward for leveraging resources and sharing information. The specific objectives of the recent NIOSH and IRSST workshop included assessing the contribution of economic studies to OSH, identifying and addressing methodological issues in economics studies, and identifying opportunities for collaborative research. The first day of the workshop focused on societal estimates of the burden, while the second day focused on employer costs and benefits of OSH interventions. Topics covered included: estimating the burden of specific occupational diseases; exploring disability, health-related quality of life, and well-being metrics; and assessing the burden of work-related motor vehicle injuries. The importance of assessing burden from both the societal and employer perspectives was stressed.
At the closing of the workshop, opportunities for collaboration among participants were identified, and included: (1) improving the understanding and use of methods to assess the business case for interventions aiming to improve worker safety and health; (2) exploring the development of a standard set of methods for estimating the burden of worker injury and illness; and (3) committing to improved information exchange on road safety research.
Share your research related to OSH economics below or comment below on important issues related to OSH economics.
Rene Pana-Cryan, PhD, is Director of the NIOSH Economic Research and Support Office.
Debbie Hoyer, MPH, is a Public Health Advisor in the NIOSH Global Collaborations Program.
Paul-Émile Boileau, BSc Physics, MSc Physics, PhD Mechanical Engineering, Scientific Director, Scientific Division, IRSST.
Martin Lebeau, BSc, MSc Finance, Scientific Professional, Scientific Division, IRSST.