The National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) is a partnership program developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The program was founded in 1996 to provide a framework for research collaborations among universities, large and small businesses, professional societies, government agencies, and worker organizations. Together these parties identify issues in the field of workplace safety and health that require immediate attention based on the number of workers affected, the seriousness of the hazard, and the likelihood that new safety information and approaches can effect a change.
Dr. Linda Rosenstock was appointed director of NIOSH in 1994. At that time many saw the Institute as an agency that yielded strong scientific research, but needed stronger connections to the real-world workforce. To remedy this, Rosenstock sought to develop stronger relationships with other organizations and agencies. NIOSH moved its headquarters from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., where the Institute could enjoy closer contact with labor and industry representatives. NIOSH's effort to build partnerships inside and outside of the government culminated in the development of the National Occupational Research Agenda.
To form the agenda, NIOSH leaders petitioned stakeholders in industry, labor, and health care for input. Organizations including General Motors, IBM, Mobil, the United Auto Workers, and the American Public Health Association joined NIOSH in developing the agenda. NIOSH sought additional aid through a series of public town meetings held in Chicago, Seattle, and Boston. In total, nearly 500 organizations and individuals provided the input that resulted in the research agenda.
NIOSH announced NORA's 21 priority research areas in 1996. On the strength of industry support and bipartisan backing, Congress increased funding for NIOSH and investment in NORA grew from $15.4 million in 1996 to $72.3 million in 1999. Following Rosenstock's resignation in 2000, Dr. John Howard continued to press and expand the NORA approach as NIOSH's new director. Periodically, the structure of the program is evaluated and updated as needed. Since 1996, NORA's projects have covered topics such as slip, trip, and fall (STF) injuries; green tobacco sickness; extended work hours; latex allergies; vehicle and mobile equipment-related injury; silica, lung cancer, and respiratory disease; and biomechanical stress in drywall installation.
Since 2006, the program has been organized by industrial sector as defined in the North American Industry Classification System. NORA sector councils, which head the research for the sectors, help to implement the national research agenda. The accomplishments of the second decade of NORA are described in a report published in 2017. NORA councils consists of participants from various backgrounds, affiliations and expertise, including stakeholders from universities, large and small businesses, professional associations, government agencies, and worker organizations. Councils present the opportunity to maximize resources towards improved occupational safety and health nationwide. They help build close partnerships among members and broader collaborations between councils and other organizations. The resulting information sharing and leveraging efforts helps promote widespread adoption of improved workplace practices based on research results. The NORA industry sector councils for the 2016-2026 decade are as follows:
In addition, NIOSH identified seven cross-sectors which focus on the health and safety issues affecting workers within each sector. The current NORA health outcome cross-sectors include:
To aid with goal-setting, NORA uses specific guidelines to determine which research needs are priorities, by using use concepts of burden, need, and impact criteria to write research goals that go into NORA Sector and Cross-Sector Agendas. These guidelines basically address these aspects:
Every ten years, NIOSH reviews the activities, outcomes, and impacts of work completed over the past NORA decade and completes a report of those accomplishments. The first decade report evaluated contributions from 1996-2006, while the second decade report reviewed activities from 2006-2016. NORA's third decade will occur from 2016-2026.
To ensure a continued focus on the practical application of the research, NIOSH cosponsored NORA Symposiums in 1999, 2003, 2006, and 2008. The 2008 NORA Symposium--"Public Market for Ideas and Partnerships"--was the first not held in the Washington, D.C., area. Instead it was hosted in Denver, reflecting NIOSH's desire to expand occupational research collaborations in the Western United States.