I think a revolution is sneaking up on us. EHS — environment, health and safety — has been used to define the “safety” industry, but practitioners were known by their certifications: industrial hygienist (CIH), safety professional (CSP), registered environmental manager (REM) or registered environmental professional (REP).
Back in the day, there were respected boundaries: industrial hygienists practiced industrial hygiene, safety professionals conducted training and managed the safety process, environmental managers dealt with EPA requirements. Professional organizations fought for ground and protected their borders, even lobbying for legislation that spelled out which EHS discipline was authorized to perform certain functions.
But to quote Jefferson Airplane, “Look what's happening out in the streets. Got a revolution, got to revolution … Ain't it amazing all the people I meet. Got a revolution, got to revolution. One generation got old. One generation got soul…”
As Baby Boomers leave the practice of EHS, the Gen X-ers moving into management are blurring those boundaries. Many attended universities where they were encouraged to be generalists — the thought being they would one day manage a comprehensive program and would turn to experts for advice about specific challenges. Many have dual CSP and CIH certifications. Examples of these Gen X-ers can be found on p. 25. Although the article profiles young leaders in industrial hygiene, they all are well-grounded and educated in many aspects of EHS and they mostly view themselves as EHS generalists who happen to be CIHs.
“Some older people complain the IH profession is disappearing because we have to wear all these different hats,” says Heather McArthur, CIH, MSPH. “Young people in the profession have already worn all those hats. We never practiced strict, traditional industrial hygiene. I see generalism not as the demise of the profession, but as an opportunity to make a difference in all aspects of the profession.”
My question to you, readers, is how do you perceive generalism? Is it the hope for the future or the end of a golden era?
How do you define EHS? Are you safety? Are you industrial hygiene? Are you health? Are you environment? Or are you all of the above?
Let me know what you think about the practice of EHS. How is it changing? How are you changing?
E-mail your thoughts to [email protected].