The workers say they do a good job, that they are proud of it. They say they save hundreds of lives a year. But in the last month, production has fallen and many workers have quit rather than move their families to stay on the job.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is moving its headquarters from Rockville to Atlanta, Ga., on Nov. 1, and estimates are that only 10 percent to 50 percent of the 176 NIOSH employes will go with it.

"There's definitely been a slow-down of work already," said Richard Lemen, director of NIOSH standards, development and technical divisions. "We're losing a lot of people already, about a dozen from our division alone."

He said it will take at least two years before the organization can handle the number of projects it has handled in the past.

NIOSH employes were told on June 22 that their facility will be moved to Atlanta, next to its parent organization, the Centers for Disease Control. Other NIOSH scientists will move to research facilities in Cincinnati.

NIOSH administrators say the move will improve efficiency. "Let me assure you that this decision is a conscientious one on our part, stemming from a basic belief that it is in the best interest of occupational safety and health," said William Watson, NIOSH deputy director.

However, Darlene Christian, vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 41, said CDC officials broke labor laws by interviewing workers and sending out letters warning employes of the move, without consulting the union. She says the union has filed one lawsuit and plans to file another today to stop or delay the move.

The real reason for the move, she says, is because the new NIOSH director, J. Donald Millar, lives in Atlanta and dosn't want to move to Rockville. A second union theory for the move, Christian says, is that the administration, knowing few NIOSH workers will move, is trying to ruin the organization.

"Only the essential activities are being done," said one senior NIOSH scientist. "Most people are doing a lot of work on . . . resumes, tracing down every lead they can find. This division used to be one of the most highly productive divisions in the government. Everyone was stretched to the limit. Now that's changed."

But some NIOSH workers aren't making plans for new jobs. They are concentrating on the fight to stop the move. Membership in Local 41 rose from seven to 42 after the move was announced.

But while discontent is rife, one senior scientist said he'd keep his house in Bethesda and commute from Atlanta on weekends. He says NOISH is so dependent on Washington contacts that he will spend half his time on temporary assignment here. "This has all happened before," he says.

NIOSH was moved to Cincinnati to save money in the 1960s, he says. "But they found it couldn't work, so they moved it to Rockville. It will happen again. I think the pressure is going to build up again to have it back in Washington within a couple of years. It's a waste. . . . But it's the same old thing."