Understanding the Economic Benefit Associated with Research and Services at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

An Approach and Three Case Studies

by Benjamin M. Miller, David Metz, Troy D. Smith, Jesse Lastunen, Eric Landree, Christopher Nelson

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Research Question

  1. How can NIOSH estimate the economic benefit of its research?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) asked the RAND Corporation to develop an approach, reported here, for estimating the economic benefit of NIOSH research, using three case studies. The cases provide concrete illustrations of the ways in which NIOSH research could affect worker health and safety practices and outcomes, as well as some initial estimates of the economic benefit associated with those impacts.

The authors selected the case studies to illustrate variation in types of NIOSH research and in intended users. The first case study examines research to develop, test, and support implementation of engineering control measures to limit exposure to silica among road construction workers. This case study offers an example of NIOSH's intervention and surveillance research and provision of technical assistance. The second case study involves two NIOSH studies that strengthened the evidence base about the linkage between firefighting activities and increased risk of certain cancers among firefighters. This case study provides an example of etiological and exposure surveillance research, coupled with an intervention study. The third case study involves a NIOSH evaluation of the effectiveness of Ohio's Safety Intervention Grant Program in reducing the prevalence and costs of workplace injuries. This case study illustrates intervention research targeting government organizations. The first and second case studies led to the development of control technologies, and all three case studies involved dissemination and stakeholder engagement efforts that promoted the adoption of risk-reducing technologies and practices.

Key Findings

The Silica Case Demonstrates How Engineering Controls Can Avoid Injuries and Fatalities

  • Based on the willingness-to-pay and value-of-a-statistical-life (VSL) estimates for risk reductions in fatal and nonfatal illnesses, the economic value of ventilation control measures ranges from $304 million to $1.1 billion on an annualized basis, with a midpoint estimate of $692 million per year.
  • Using a separate medical cost approach, the authors estimate that NIOSH's activities contributed to $4.9 million in avoided medical and productivity losses on an annualized basis for fatal lung cancers.

The Firefighter Case Shows How Personal Protective Equipment and Other Controls Help Reduce Cancer Risk

  • They estimate that resulting reductions in mortality and morbidity would reduce medical costs and productivity losses by $71 million per year, with a range of $23 million to $93 million, depending on assumptions about reduction in risk and adoption of control measures.
  • Using VSL, the authors estimate benefits of approximately $1 billion.

The Workers' Compensation Case Shows How Safety Grant Programs Reduce the Costs Associated with Workplace Injuries

  • More than with the other case studies, the impacts of this work are still developing. Nevertheless, the authors find evidence that, between 2013 and 2017, NIOSH research has been associated with $4 million to $7 million per year in avoided workers' compensation costs, $7 million to $11 million in new streams of annual productivity gains per year, and from almost $700,000 to more than $16 million in avoided uncompensated wage losses per year.

Recommendations

  • NIOSH should consider conducting additional case studies to explore other types of research and intended audiences and that account for the costs of producing and implementing research.
  • NIOSH should consider examining cases in which the linkages between its research and safety and health improvements are less clear because there can be important lessons from cases of unrealized impact.
  • NIOSH should consider ways in which it might start to fill some of the gaps in data and analysis encountered while conducting this economic analysis.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Supporting Development of Silica Controls in Asphalt Pavement Milling

  • Chapter Three

    Building and Disseminating Evidence on Firefighters' Cancer Risk

  • Chapter Four

    Assessing and Disseminating Impacts of Ohio Safety Intervention Grants

  • Chapter Five

    Discussion and Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Stakeholders Consulted

  • Appendix B

    Calculation of the Reduction in Firefighters' Risk Exposure

The research described in this report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIOSH and conducted by the Infrastructure Resilience and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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