Protecting Worker Respiratory Health

Image courtesy of the Mine Safety and Health Administration

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Appalachian Laboratory for Occupational Respiratory Disease (ALFORD) within the U.S. Public Health Service, to prevent work-related respiratory disease and improve workers’ respiratory health.ALFORD subsequently joined NIOSH in 1971, changed into the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies (DRDS) in 1977, and then became the Respiratory Health Division (RHD) in 2015.

ALFORD subsequently joined NIOSH in 1971, changed into the Division of Respiratory Disease Studies (DRDS) in 1977, and then became the Respiratory Health Division (RHD) in 2015.

ALFORD’s mission was to address occupational issues affecting Appalachia. Its first priority was to prevent occupational respiratory disease in coal miners.  The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 assigned official responsibilities in this area to ALFORD.  These included operating a national health screening program for coal miners and conducting a national study to evaluate respiratory disease in coal miners.

Subsequently, responsibilities assigned from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 expanded the group’s mission to advance prevention of work-related respiratory disease across the spectrum of occupations and industries.   Over the years, efforts to identify and address work-related respiratory hazards have had great impact.  They have provided a scientific foundation for prevention recommendations and have helped to target prevention efforts where they could do the most good.

In working with internal and external partners, RHD has conducted research to help protect workers from occupational respiratory diseases.

Examples include:

Various areas of studies include exposures to:

According to NIOSH, respiratory disease is still a leading cause of illness and death, and work exposures, including new and emerging ones, are significant contributors.