IH Insights: The Indirect Approach

One book that has influenced my industrial hygiene (IH) practice that you will not find in an IH catalog is Basil Liddell Hart's military analysis of operational strategy. Hart's studies led him to profess those commanders who developed an indirect approach as opposed to a direct assault on their opponents forces gathered far more laurels at far less cost.

If you practice occupational health and safety (OHS), you eventually will encounter resistance. An ethical career in OHS guarantees direct assaults on resistance, but look for opportunities to circumvent resistance by an indirect approach.

Two examples best illustrate IH indirect approach in practice. The first involves the manager of a worker suffering nosebleeds as a result of a photo development bench top procedure. The IH application of respiratory protection literally stopped the bleeding but was not the IH total victory of engineering control. The manager staunchly repelled any suggestions of seeking substitutes and/or submitting a plant-engineering request for local exhaust ventilation analysis as impractical.

The presence of an exhausted batch operation copier in the room gave the OHS office the opportunity for an indirect approach. Measuring the copier ventilation duct flow, consulting the ACGIH Industrial Ventilation Manual and collecting supplies from shipping and receiving, the OHS office built, installed and demonstrated a full-scale, working, cardboard-and-duct tape hood, complete with damper. Faced with this fait accompli, the manager was suddenly able to find a safer substitute developer. Pleasantly, the manager turned into an OHS partner.

An office worker claiming fantastic paint hypersensitivity provides the second example. Minor painting events resulted with complaints that she was under physical duress. Conventional IH approaches would not budge her opinions. Efforts to relocate her and reschedule painting events grew fatiguing. Capitulation by granting her special leave appeared to be her objective.

OHS struck out on a circumventing approach. The next time, OHS showed up with a selection of half-mask cartridge respirators. OHS advised her that there was no recognizable hazard but the employer was going to act on her premise that there was. Therefore, since engineering and administrative controls were infeasible, she would have to wear a half-mask respirator that the painters’ wore for those certain tasks that excessively exposed them to fumes. The thought of sitting at a desk with the respirator crowning her meticulous and well-dressed person cured her hypersensitivity allegations.

David K. Ermer, CIH, QEP, CLSO, can be reached at [email protected]

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