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Return of Guardsmen & Reservists to the Workforce Suggests Safety, Work Organization Needs


February 15, 2011
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser, (202) 245-0645

As record numbers of National Guardsmen and Reservists return to the civilian workforce from active military duty – in many cases, from duty in a combat zone – they and their employers face challenges that occupational safety and health professionals are uniquely positioned and skilled to address.

John Howard, M.D., Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), discusses this emerging role for safety and health professionals in the February 2011 edition of NIOSH eNews, NIOSH’s monthly on-line newsletter.

More than 100,000 Guardsmen and Reservists are on active duty, mostly in overseas deployment and combat zones. Dr. Howard noted: “Before 9/11, a commitment to the Guard or the Reserves typically meant a few months of initial active duty, followed by a weekend of service or training each month. Today, service in the Reserves is more likely to mean activation and overseas deployment than in the past, often lasting for a year or more, often involving assignment to a combat zone.”

As a Guardsman or Reservist returns to civilian life and reintegration into the workforce, these considerations arise in regard to safety and health on the job, Dr. Howard noted:

  • Physical safety: If the returning worker suffers temporary or permanent impairment from a combat wound, does that impairment place him or her at further risk of a job-related injury? In the past nine years, more than 8,000 Guardsmen and Reservists have been wounded in combat.
  • Mental health: Post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depression may be an emotionally painful legacy of combat service. Where a returning hero is undergoing treatment for a condition, or alternatively has adopted a harmful coping behavior, what safety implications exist for their ability to complete tasks, operate machinery, or deal with work pressures?
  • Work organization: Deployment of an employee for several months or a year can create disruptions in the company’s and co-workers’ schedules and work organization when the employee leaves, and again when he or she returns from duty. More and more, business leaders recognize that such stresses have implications for health and well-being, and in turn implications for efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

Dr. Howard noted that NIOSH has begun to work with partners, including the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, to address the safety and health community’s role in anticipating and meeting the needs of returning Guardsmen and Reservists and their employers, determining the breadth of knowledge surrounding this population, and determining the gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed. For the text of Dr. Howard’s discussion in NIOSH eNews, Volume 8 Number 10, February 2011, please visit

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries and illnesses. It was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. For further information, visit