A House Appropriations subcommittee took action in a closed meeting yesterday that could prevent the controversial planned move of the headquarters of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health from Rockville to Atlanta.

By a 5-to-4 vote, reportedly along party lines, the Democrat-dominated subcommittee forbade the use of about $1.8 million in federal funds for the November move, which has been criticized by labor leaders and some members of Congress as well as NIOSH employes.

It was unclear last night whether the subcommittee's action would be sustained as the multibillion dollar appropriations bill of which it is part moves toward eventual passage. It must still go to the full committee and House and must also be approved by the Senate.

"It's a long way to go," one knowledgeable Republican source said, noting that the move was favored by Health and Human Services Secretary Richard S. Schweiker.

NIOSH is the government agency that researches job-related health hazards and makes nonbinding policy recommendations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Under the planned move, NIOSH operations would be combined with those of the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control, and AFL-CIO officials have expressed concern that NIOSH would be subordinated and lose its identity.

Estimates have been made that no more than about 10-to-50 per-cent of the 176 NIOSH employees would go with it to Atlanta. NIOSH administrators have said that the move would improve efficiency and was proposed in the best interest of occupational safety and health.

However, a union that represents some NIOSH employes has challenged this contention and has lobbied vigorously against the move.

The vote against the NIOSH move came during a day-long session of the subcommittee that appropriates money for the Departments of Labor, Education and HHS.