Industrial Hygiene: A Global Perspective

Pressure to provide economic justification for safety and health measures will increase as companies on a worldwide basis endlessly restructure.

The practice of industrial hygiene (or as some would call it, occupational hygiene) has grown significantly around the world. In this article, I will briefly describe some world trends and provide you with an update on where we are as a profession and where we are headed. My brief review will be limited to the major regions and countries of the world. Some might ask, "Why is this worth knowing?" I think the Asian economic crisis should make it clear that we are all affected by what happens in remote parts of the world. Additionally, the growth and activities of the safety and health profession outside of the U.S. are important to the success of the profession overall.

There are several world trends that are affecting our profession. First, world economics in conjunction with GATT are pushing global manufacturing. Global manufacturing means production of products in areas of economic advantage with regional or worldwide distribution. As a result, more U.S.-based professionals will deal with international issues even if only limited to requirements for exports. It also means the growth of our profession outside the U.S., with some ideas and concepts such as the "Green Movement" and "Sustainable Development" being imported here from Europe and other places.

Another trend is the change in workers' compensation systems and the regulatory climate. Workers' compensation, which is a driver for our profession, is being privatized in many regions of the world (such as South America) and will continue to move in this direction. This means that there will be additional economic incentives for companies to reduce worker injuries and illness. This is because most government programs do not effectively penalize those with the highest injury and illness rates.

A trend to reduce government has been apparent in most of the developed world. This trend will spread to the developing world as well, driven by the economics of competition in a world scene. This trend will decrease government programs and promote consulting because governments will not be able to actively establish and enforce worker safety and health with limited resources (for example, this is likely in Mexico). Pressure to provide economic justification for safety and health measures and programs will also increase, as companies on a worldwide basis continue to endlessly cycle through hiring downsizing, restructuring and outsourcing to gain economic advantage.

The growth of global standards (or standardization) and information sharing will continue at an everincreasing pace. We have already seen approaches to this such as the recently established SA 8000 from the Partnership for Responsible Global Sourcing. This voluntary practice encompasses many labor and discrimination issues, including safe working conditions.

In practical terms, there is a move to a management systems approach to safety and health stressing continuous improvement or at least common standards for performance across the world. This bodes well for those dealing with a myriad of complex regulations in different parts of the world.

Finally, most of us are no longer in professional isolation when it comes to ideas and performance in safety and health. With the advent of the World Wide Web, cross-fertilization is available to our profession, no matter where it may be practiced. This means an essentially free flow of information around the world that will speed the progress of our profession. In other words, someone in an underdeveloped country will have access to the latest ideas and developments while we will be able to benefit from best practices around the world.

IH in the World Scene

The English-speaking countries tend (with exceptions) to have the greatest number of industrial hygienists and most developed professional practices. This includes the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa and Australia. Others with relatively large or growing practices in IH include Brazil, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and Taiwan.

All those mentioned, with the exception of Sweden and Taiwan, are currently members of the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA). Of this listing, the U.S., Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, Finland, Canada, South Africa and Sweden (proposed) currently have some form of certification or licensing for the practice of industrial hygiene. Interestingly, even though the largest number of hygienists tend to reside in English-speaking countries, it is clear that world-class experts reside even in the developing countries -- just in smaller numbers.

The transition that is taking place is the movement from a physician-dominated treatment model to a greater emphasis on prevention in most of the industrially developing countries of the world. This trend, combined with the import of safety and health practices from multinationals, is creating the demand for IH. A brief summary of the growth of the profession on a regional basis follows.

North America

The United States has the largest and most active industrial hygiene practice in the world. Estimates are that there are about 15,000 industrial hygienists in the U. S.; half of them certified in IH. The U.S. also has the most academic programs at all levels. More than 100 schools offer degrees in industrial hygiene or a closely related field. Canada probably has the second largest number of industrial hygienists -- over 600.

While Central America has been somewhat slow to develop, the practice of industrial hygiene in Mexico is rapidly expanding now. Ignacio Zamorano, one of five certified professionals in Mexico, recently suggested that there were probably not more than 10 industrial hygienists in Mexico in 1990, but that there are more than 50 today.

Based on recent legislation on IH practices and the influence of NAFTA, it would appear quite likely that the profession will continue this rapid growth in Mexico. Moreover, new legislation has proposed the use of "government-approved" consultants to perform safety and health inspections in a third-party scheme there.

South America

Brazil has the most industrial hygiene activity in South America. The Brazilian industrial hygiene community has held several national conferences with excellent attendance. The practice there is still hampered to some extent by the emphasis on medical treatment but nevertheless is growing rapidly, as is Brazil's economy.

There are probably over 200 persons practicing IH with several certified under the U.S. system. In addition, there is a growing array of academic programs to prepare future industrial hygienists. Argentina, Chile, Columbia and Venezuela also have growing IH practices with graduate training programs available in some of these countries.

Europe

Europe can be divided into three geographical regions with respect to safety and health activities. These regions are Northern Europe (includes Scandinavia), Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. While these classifications are broad, it does follow that the northern regions are most developed while the eastern regions are least developed.

The U.K. leads Europe in the number of occupational hygienists and has a long history of a well-developed practice and professional activities. This is not surprising, given that the practice originated there. In fact, for much of the world, most of the industrial hygienists with advanced degrees have gotten them either in the U.K., Canada or the U.S. In some areas (e.g., ergonomic practices in Scandinavia), Europe leads the world.

What is happening now is the rapid transformation of much of Europe to meet the safety and health standards of the E.U. This is particularly evident in countries such as Spain and Poland, where there is a strong push to meet risk assessment requirements. Ultimately, this will lead to a growth of industrial hygiene and safety in both southern and eastern Europe.

Russia has a long history of having the most stringent standards for occupational exposures in the world. Typical of many countries -- standards that are published but not practiced. It is difficult to speculate at this point in time on the extent of an industrial hygiene practice in Russia. No doubt that it exists, but this author does not know the extent of a defined professional practice outside of medicine.

AustralAsia

Under my geographical scheme, much of the world lies within Austral-Asia. It probably has the broadest span of IH development in the world. The practice in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Saudi Arabia is relatively well-developed and growing in the remainder of the region.

Australia and New Zealand have the most active practices in IH with probably the highest per capita ratios of industrial hygienists to population in the region (and perhaps the world). In fact, there are a large number of hygienists certified under the U.S. system there, as well as a very active professional association and graduate academic programs with strong links to both the U.S. and the U.K.

The practice in China is not yet well developed but is moving rapidly. South Korea has several academic programs and an established and growing practice. Other areas such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam lie somewhere between these stages of development.

What is probably most significant is the proposal by China to leapfrog its development in safety and health by quickly moving to a mandated management systems approach while trying to establish the professional resources to carry this out.

The second most populous country after China is India. India, like China, is just beginning to recognize the economic costs of occupational injuries and illnesses. India has a relatively young profession with probably only about 100 persons practicing industrial hygiene. Some recent developments suggest an increasing growth in IH, including the establishment of a couple of graduate programs of study. Obviously, both India and China represent the greatest growth potential for the profession.

Africa

As mentioned earlier, South Africa has the most industrial hygienists on the continent. It has formed a professional association and qualification scheme, along with an increase in the number of academic programs offering occupational hygiene specialties. The remainder of the continent is still in the development stages, just like its industrial development.

In this quick glimpse of the world, there are many countries which I have failed to mention, like Israel, which also have a number of actively practicing industrial hygienists. This is not intended as a slight but rather a lack of information on what their current state of practice may be. If you know of some interesting goings-on, you should let the readers of Occupational Hazards know about them through a quick note to the editor. I am confident that many readers will share my interest in wanting to know what is going on outside of the U.S.

In closing, this article has touched on the growth of the profession of industrial hygiene around the world, emphasizing general trends rather than specifics in the various countries. There are many sources for more information. These include the International Affairs Committee of AIHA (www.aiha.org), NIOSH (www.cdc.gov/niosh), the World Health Organization (www.who.ch), and others. I would recommend that you check out the web page for the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (www.ccohs.ca) as a starting point. It has links to these and a number of other interesting sites. It's a small world with a lot to learn from others.

Contributing Editor Zack Mansdorf, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, QEP, is a consultant in industrial hygiene and a former president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

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