In 1985, House Bill 2290 created a center for occupational disease research and provided continuous base funding from the State of Oregon Workers' Compensation income. Programmatic approval and funding authority for the center was granted by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education in December 1987. The new center's purpose was mandated to include one or more of the following activities:
- Conduct basic and applied research to reduce the costs and dangers of occupational disease
- Conduct epidemiology and other forms of data collection on occupational disease
- Design programs for the effective clinical management of occupational disease
- Design and offer education and training programs
Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) directed the Center to focus its initial efforts on research on the adverse impact of chemical and physical agents on the nervous system (neurotoxicology) due to the established and internationally recognized programs in neuroscience already at OHSU. The new research institute was re-named the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET) to reflect its initial focus and to attract scientists and funding. The Center began by:
- Creating a critical mass of basic scientists to study the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying occupational disorders
- Redefining research tools and approaches in the study of neurotoxic disease
- Cultivating broad-based grant and contract support to create a Center of world-class stature
- Recruiting outstanding scientists and establishing an environment of professional collaboration and cooperation
Peter Spencer, Ph.D., F.R.C.Path was appointed director and senior scientist of the new Center in 1988. CROET moved into its permanent facilities (entry pictured) on the OHSU campus in 1993. Dr. Stephen Lloyd became Interim CROET Director in October, 2009, and Steven Shea, PhD, was named the Director of CROET by OHSU Vice President Dan Dorsa, on April 2, 2012.
Renaming to Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences
In 2014, CROET changed it's name to the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences, sometimes abbreviated Occ Health Sci or the Institute, again by legislation in the Oregon legislature. The Institute's focus broadened rapidly to encompass occupational health and then safety in order to address Oregon's range of workplace needs and to look forward to prevention.
Research programs were developed to address occupational injuries. The reconnection of nerves to muscles after injury was addressed at a very basic level (eg, neuronal structure and development from a cell biological perspective in Dr. Gary Banker's lab) and applied research programs were developed to prevent accidents in the first place (eg, research to address the motivation to reduce 'overspeeding' in truck drivers in Dr. Ryan Olson's lab that could save injuries and lives).
Pesticide exposure in Oregon was studied by Drs. Linda McCauley, Kent Anger and Diane Rohlman to determine if today's low-concentration exposures found in agriculture were being tracked into the worker's homes and if adverse effects were occurring in the workers, owners or their families. Pesticide exposure was also studied at a more molecular level by Drs. Pam Lein to identify mechanisms of effect and better biomarkers and Doris Kretzschmar to study neurodegenerative diseases associated with such exposures.
DNA damage due to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sun exposure has been studied to identify UV-induced cancers by Drs. Stephen Lloyd, Mitch Turker, and Amanda McCullough. DNA repair to reverse the damage is also under study in the Lloyd and McCullough labs to evaluate and commercialize a repair enzyme that could save lives.
Maintaining a healthy workforce has been addressed at multiple levels, by Dr. Jackie Shannon who studies dietary factors associated with maintenance of health, obesity and the metabolic syndrome are under study by Drs. Lloyd and McCullough, wellness in working populations (currently truck drivers) has been studied and a successful wellness program developed in Dr. Ryan Olson's lab. In September, 2011, the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (OHWC), a NIOSH Center of Excellence, was funded. The OHWC’s theme, Intervention Effectiveness, focuses on: Team-based and technology-based interventions to promote and protect health, all crafted with attention to translating research to practice; and improved social support and reduced job stress, which will in turn produce improved lifestyle choices, safer work practices, and better psychological and physical health.
Control of sleep and wakefulness has been studied by Dr. Chuck Allen's lab at the molecular level and Dr. Steven A. Shea focuses on the effect of circadian rhythms and sleep disorders on human disease.
Drs. Kent Anger and Diane Rohlman have worked in the area of training effectiveness and developed computer-based training effective with people with limited education, especially the agricultural workforce, as well as well educated employees. Work skills and safe work practices, impacts or violence on the workplace, prevention of violence in home care workers and work-life balance have been topics of this research.
Surveillance of occupational health and safety has been a priority area, led by Dr. Ryan Olson's lab through the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE) program studying Oregon fatalities and developing prevention materials in response.
This research has led to influential publications, occupational regulation or rule changes in Oregon, training adopted by industry, and to three companies to commercialize products developed out of discoveries in the faculty laboratories. A core of outstanding faculty carry out the research at the Institute, though some faculty have moved on to other positions (Dr. McCauley is now Dean of the School of Nursing at Emory University; Dr. Banker is now Director of the Progam in Cellular Neurobiology and Associate Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at OHSU; and Dr. Lein is a faculty member at the University of California at Davis; though they all retain collaborations with Institute faculty.
Occ Health Sci's faculty research has been refocused on prevention and intervention programs at the basic and applied level. It is complemented by a strong outreach program. The twin jewels of the outreach program are the Occ Health Sci (formerly CROETweb) Resource Directory overseen by Dede Montgomery, MS, CIH, used widely by Oregon safety specialists, and the Toxicology Information Center (topics in health and safety) directed by Dr. Fred Berman. The Institute's outreach staff are also heavily involved in collaboratives to address safety and health needs, providing close ties with Oregon OSHA, Oregon Department of Agriculture, regional universities and labor and business organizations. Most faculty and many members of labs participate in outreach and education.
This brief history is intended to tantalize and to interest readers in looking at specific and more detailed information in the Accomplishments link just above this History link in the navigation column to your left.