The hierarchy of controls is intended to relegate the use of PPE to control hazards for which process change, engineering, and other control options are not feasible. The hierarchy of controls principle is based on the premise that PPE is less reliable than other approaches because of the vagaries of individual compliance with instructions for use, and that the quality and efficacy of PPE are insufficient to guarantee that exposures will be reduced.


As a federal agency, NIOSH is increasingly challenged to develop measures of performance—to set and meet goals and objectives established under the Government Performance and Results Act and to complete the periodic scorecard in the Performance Assessment Rating Tool. These performance objectives must be overlaid with NIOSH’s institute-wide strategic planning effort (the National Occupational Research Agenda [NORA-2]), which calls for increased intervention research and technology transfer (i.e., research to practice, or R2P) directed at specific industry sectors. In this increasingly complex environment, NIOSH has turned to the National Academies to bring together expertise from the scientific disciplines to assist in program development and assessment.

The assessment starts with the NIOSH mission. Since its establishment in 1970 with the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, NIOSH has worked closely with OSHA of the U.S. Department of Labor, which has responsibility for regulating occupational safety and health in the workplace. NIOSH provides national and world leadership in preventing work-related illnesses, injury, and death by pursuing the strategic goals of coordinating and strengthening the capacities of state-based surveillance systems for major workplace illnesses, injuries, exposures, and health and safety hazards; increasing prevention activities through workplace evaluations, interventions, and recommendations; providing employees, employers, the public, and the occupational health and safety community with information, training, and capacity to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses; and conducting a focused program of research to reduce injuries and illnesses, including transmission of infectious diseases, among employees in high-priority and high-risk sectors, including mining, agriculture, construction, and health care. Although the mission has been relatively constant, the emphasis and the means of accomplishing the mission have evolved.


In administering its programs, NIOSH has, for the last decade, focused on priority areas defined in NORA. NORA is a framework established in 1996 by NIOSH and more than 500 partners to guide the efforts of the occupational safety and health community in 21 priority research areas. Starting in 2006, an extension of this program (NORA-2) will develop a cross-matrix of research priorities addressing opportunities for public health interventions in specific industrial sectors: agriculture, forestry, and fishing; construction; health care and social assistance; manufacturing; mining; public and private services; trade; and transportation, warehousing, and utilities. The agency also organizes its efforts along 15 cross-sector programs taking into account adverse health outcomes, statutory programs, and global efforts. Among the cross-sector programs is personal protective technology (PPT), which encompasses PPE such as respirators, chemical-resistant clothing, hearing protectors, hard hats, hazardous substance sensors, and safety goggles and glasses that provide a barrier between the employee and the occupational safety and health risk.

In 1972, responsibility for PPE was transferred to NIOSH from the Bureau of Mines. In that year, NIOSH opened the NIOSH Personal Protective Equipment Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia. This laboratory has a role in testing protective equipment and respirator certification. Later, the responsibility for chemical protective clothing was added. The respirator program was transferred to a new organization—the NPPTL in Bruceton, Pennsylvania—in 2001.

The mission of NPPTL is to provide world, national, and NIOSH leadership for prevention and reduction of occupational disease, injury, and death for those employees who rely on PPTs through partnership, research, service, and communication.1 Like its higher headquarters, NPPTL organizes its programs along the lines of surveillance, research, intervention, training, and education. In addition, NPPTL develops standards and guidelines relating to PPE performance, quality, reliability, and efficiency and, as an offshoot, directs and carries out the NIOSH respirator certification program and related laboratory, field, quality, and records activities. Surveillance activities of the NPPTL have centered on understanding respirator use in workplaces; investigating ways to evaluate respirator use by mobile workforces such as construction crews; and understanding the work requirements, challenges, and PPE needs of first responders. The NPPTL organizes these activities among three major branches—Technology Evaluation, Technology Research, and Policy and Standards Development—parcel-


In Senate Report 106-293 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill, 2001 Filed Under Authority of the Order of the Senate January 6, 1999, Congress outlined the need for this new division: “It has been brought to the Committee’s attention the need for design, testing and state-of-the-art equipment for this nation’s … miners, firefighters, healthcare, agricultural and industrial employees … [also] the Committee encourages NIOSH to carry out research, testing and related activities aimed at protecting employees who respond to public health needs in the event of a terrorist incident. The Committee encourages CDC [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to organize and implement a national personal protective equipment laboratory.”

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