NIOSH Morgantown WV

Communication

at NIOSH

Steve Booth-Butterfield Joins HELD/NIOSH

I've accepted the position of Branch Chief for the Health Communication Research Branch (HCRB) of the Health Effects Laboratory Division (HELD) for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) located in Morgantown, West Virginia. The HCRB represents a major committment by the Federal government to include the theory and research from academic communication into the normal science of health and safety research and risk reduction.

A little background: the Health Effects Lab Division, HELD, is composed of 7 branches: Toxicology & Molecular Biology; Pathology & Physiology; Exposure Assessment; Engineering & Control Technology; Biostatistics; Analytical Services; and Health Communication Research. HELD is a basic science division. NIOSH is taking a creative step here, attempting to marry a social science like Communication with physical and life sciences. HCRB will employ communication concepts and methods to understand and reduce mortality and morbidity in the workplace the same way the other Branches use concepts and methods from biology, physics, and engineering to accomplish the same goal.

Given the scientific orientation of HELD in particular and NIOSH in general, HCRB also takes a strong empirical research perspective.  The Branch is composed of professionals who have strong training and experience with quantitative, experimental research, cutting-edge technological skills, who enjoy working in research teams, and who want to make a difference in the world.

Program Options

HCRB has internship, graduate assistantship, and post-doctoral programs.  We also have a variety of partnership arrangements with academic researchers.  The Federal government has a number of mechanisms for providing links and resources between HCRB and other researchers.  Installing a particular mechanism is a bureaucratic challenge, but it is not the most important feature for developing a relationship.  If you want to understand and use communication to improve workplace safety and health, then we can probably find a suitable mechanism.  The key is finding the common research interest.

Research Projects

NIOSH tends to orient to occupational health and safety through agents (chemical exposure, noise levels, etc.) and diseases (silicosis, asthma, cancer, etc.) in a classic dose-response analysis.  Social scientists would tend to divide the problem differently:  personality processes, attitudes and social cognition, information processing, message targeting and tailoring and how these variables affect cognition, affect, and behavior regarding safety and health.  At NIOSH, the context of the problem (the dose-response equation and the specific agent-disease process) drives the research and hence is the starting point for any social science investigation.  Thus, the first step for any HCRB research project is to understand the basic science of the agent-disease process, then deploy our concept, theories, and methods to solve the problem.

Presently NIOSH is committed to a set of problems called the National Occupational Research Agenda or NORA.  The creation of NORA is an interesting communication case study in itself (see "The National Occupational Research Agenda: A Model of Broad Stakeholder Input into Priority Setting," by L. Rosenstock, C. Olenec, and G.R. Wegner in the March 1998 issue of American Journal of Public Health for background).  NORA defines three large areas of inquiry: Disease and Injury, Work Environment and Workforce, and Research Tools and Approaches.  For more details on NORA visit its homepage.

Contact Information

Steve Booth-Butterfield, Chief, HCRB
HELD/NIOSH
1095 Willowdale Road, M/S 4050
Morgantown, WV 26508
voice: 304 285 6090
fax:     304 285 6166
email: zee5@cdc.gov

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Copyright © Steve Booth-Butterfield, 1995-00
Most recent revision July 8, 2000.