Institute History

Early History

The Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences, Improving the lives of workers through Biomedical and occupational research

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
Richard Jones Hall home of the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences
Richard Jones Hall in the Evening

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.  After an international search, Steven Shea, PhD, was named the Director of CROET by OHSU Vice President Dan Dorsa on April 2, 2012.

The Institute’s Director, Professor Steven A Shea, PhD, was awarded a 7-year $6.5 million “Outstanding Investigator Award” from the National Heart, Lung and Blood institute at the NIH in 2021. The purpose of the Outstanding Investigator Award is to provide long-term research support and flexibility to experienced researchers by funding an overall research program.

Renaming to Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences

Oregon Institute od Occupational Health Sciences in Richard Jones Hall
Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences

In 2013, CROET changed it's name to the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences, sometimes abbreviated OccHealthSci or the Institute, again by legislation in the Oregon legislature since it better reflected our ongoing activities. 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.

Oregon Healthy Workforce Center 2011
CROET OHWC 2011

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.

Institute OHWC team in 2020
Institute OHWC team in 2020

Dr. Kent Anger is the founding Director, leading it for the first two 5-year cycles.  Drs. Leslie Hammer and Ryan Olson became the OHWC co-Directors in January, 2020.  The Center was recommended for funding for a third 5-year cycle in 2021.

Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences Spring Symposium 2019
Oregon Institute of Occupational Sciences Spring 2019 Symposium

A strong education program has been founded on both practitioner and academic education.  The Institute presents symposia on occupational safety and health topics twice a year.  The early symposia focused on toxicology and occupational health, evolving into our present focus on Total Worker Health topics consistent with NIOSH's re-focusing on safety, health and well-being (Total Worker Health®) as the guideline for worker protection in the US.  Academic education is centered on basic science education at the graduate level in OHSU's School of Medicine, and occupational safety, health and well-being through the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.  Complementing this is the Institute's long-standing Summer Internship program that brings undergraduates into Institute labs and field research programs for 2 to 3 months where the interns develop and conduct a mentored research project culminating in a science research poster presented to the Institute in August.

The Institute is home to the NIOSH-funded OR FACE program, co-hosted by the Oregon Health Authority, that investigates elect occupational fatalities in the state and develops recommendations to prevent further fatalities through lessons learned.  The Institute also sits on the Pesticide Analytical and Response Center (PARC) board that reviews all reported pesticide exposures and complaints in the state.  PARC is centered in the Oregon Department of Agriculture's (ODA) Pesticides Division.

Outreach Team Jan 2019
Outreach Team, Jan 2019

The outreach program began as a way to inform the public about the work going on in the Center, chiefly through quarterly printed newsletter.  That blossomed into our current outreach concept that includes this website, digital newsletters, the Oregon and the Workplace blog, podcasts, the Toxicology Information Center which was broadened into the OccHealthSci Occupational Resource Center and digital Resource Directory, dissemination of Institute research intervention products through YourWorkpath.com, and consultation with Oregon business and labor.  The Outreach team has developed deep ties with Oregon government, business and labor through participation in state, regional and national meetings and committees, including participation in the development of state and national guidelines, including those of Total Worker Health.  Outreach also led to the formation of the first state alliance of academia, government and workers compensation insurance organizations, the Oregon Total Worker Health® Alliance, formed by the Institute, Oregon OSHA and SAIF, the state's largest workers' compensation carrier.

This brief history is intended to tantalize and to interest readers in looking at specific and more detailed information on our Accomplishments page