Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Respiratory diseases caused by exposures to dangerous materials in the workplace have tremendous implications for worker health and, by extension, the national economy. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that deaths from work-related respiratory diseases and cancers account for about 70% of all occupational disease deaths. NIOSH conducts research in order to detect and reduce work-related hazardous exposures, injuries, and diseases; its Respiratory Diseases Research Program (RDRP) focuses on respiratory diseases. This National Research Council report reviews the RDRP to evaluate the 1) relevance of its work to improvements in occupational safety and health and 2) the impact of research in reducing workplace respiratory illnesses. The assessment reveals that the program has made essential contributions to preventing occupational respiratory disease. The National Research Council has rated the Program a 5 out of 5 for relevance, and a 4 out of 5 for impact. To further increase its effectiveness, the Respiratory Diseases Research Program should continue and expand its current efforts, provide resources for occupational disease surveillance, and include exposure assessment scientists in its activities.

Key Messages

  • NIOSH research on improving respirators is another essential means to address the threat of respiratory diseases among workers.
  • The committee has assigned a score of 4 in its rating of impact. This reflects the committee's judgment that most subprograms within the RDRP have made major contributions to worker health and safety on the basis of end and well-accepted intermediate outcomes.
  • The committee has assigned a score of 5 in its rating of relevance. This reflects the judgment of the committee that the activities related to most of the strategic goals are in the highest-priority subject areas and highly relevant to improvements in workplace protection and that the RDRP is engaged in transfer activities at a significant level.
  • The committee supports a range of ongoing RDRP activities that proactively address the incidence of future diseases and emerging diseases. These activities include the development and improvement of methods (e.g., spirometry, radiography, and novel biomarkers) to detect respiratory effects earlier and more accurately, continued research on the molecular mechanisms driving the pathogenesis of workplace-related respiratory diseases, characterization of those agents (or attributes of those agents) responsible for respiratory effects, and evaluations of genetic variability that affects worker susceptibility
  • The review by this committee was conducted on the basis of a framework established by a parent committee established by the National Academies. That framework document established a scoring system from 1 to 5 for impact and relevance, with 5 being the highest.