White Paper Clarifies Industrial Hygienists' Role in Emergency Response

To help emergency planners, incident commanders and community leaders take full advantage of the experience, training and education of industrial hygiene professionals, the American Industrial Hygiene Association has developed a white paper that provides specific guidance on where and how these experts can fit into the Incident Command System, as specified by the National Incident Management System.

Industrial hygienists' expertise can be a vital resource for government agencies, private response organizations and local emergency planning committees when preparing for or responding to emergency situations, according to AIHA. Qualified industrial hygienists can provide effective guidance on methods to identify, manage and ultimately control risks associated with natural disasters, hazardous material accidents and terrorist attacks, the professional organization believes.

"Industrial hygienists play a significant role in protecting the lives of our nation's response personnel and support staff," said AIHA President Roy Buchan, Dr.PH, CIH. "Their technical expertise in health, safety and environmental health issues can save lives and protect communities during hazardous chemical, biological or radiological releases, natural disasters and terrorist attacks."

According to the white paper, industrial hygienists are qualified and able to perform a number of incident command functions, such as:

  • Participating in pre-planning for a major incident;
  • Developing and implementing exposure assessment methods to identify and prioritize hazards during the incident response and consequence management phases of an operation;
  • Interpreting data from sampling activities and direct-reading instrumentation appropriately;
  • Advising on, developing and implementing the appropriate controls for elimination of chemical, biological or physical hazards;
  • Advising on, developing and implementing appropriate personal protective equipment to minimize exposures
  • Advising on, developing and implementing personnel decontamination procedures; and
  • Effectively communicating risks based on complex scientific and field data.

The white paper also provides guidance on the minimum qualifications and professional competencies needed for an industrial hygienist to work in the area of emergency planning and response.

The white paper was developed by the AIHA Emergency Preparedness and Response Task Force, a group of experts in the fields of industrial hygiene and emergency response.

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