IHs: Leaders or Bit Players?

Presenting the Cummings Memorial Award Lecture, D. Jeff Burton examined the role of the industrial hygienist in\r\nthe broader EHS field at the recent American Industrial Hygiene Conference.

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The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) should provide "complete EH&S services for those who have responsibility in safety and environmental ... and position (industrial hygiene) to be the leader of the EH&S effort," D. Jeff Burton told a packed meeting of the American Industrial Hygiene Conference Wednesday in Orlando.

Presenting the Cummings Memorial Award Lecture for the late Dr. Jeffrey Lee, Burton examined the role of the industrial hygienist in the broader EHS field. "Are we going to be the leaders of that group or are we going to be a strong bit player?" he asked the audience. In 1991, he noted, U.S. News and World Report had predicted that industrial hygiene would become one of the "top 20 professions." As recently as 1995, he added, an article in the American Industrial Hygiene Journal had predicted that the U.S. could have 50,000 industrial hygienists by 2010.

Burton''s talk, "The Decline and Fall of the IH Empire?", outlined a number of reasons why industrial hygiene has failed to achieve EHS leadership and why membership in AIHA and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has declined. Those reasons, he said, included the splintering of industrial hygiene into a variety of specialty fields and the failure of industrial hygienists to develop an "umbrella association" that would include these specialists. He also pointed to the weakening of OSHA and its inability to develop new industrial hygiene standards. "A weak OSHA weakens our ultimate goal of providing good working conditions to all employees," he said.

Other reasons cited by Burton included the failure to consolidate the industrial hygiene associations, the slowing of industry-sponsored applied research, the reduction of engineering expertise in the profession and competition from more aggressive associations.

Burton pointed out that the American Society of Safety Engineers has an industrial hygiene division. While he said it was better to cooperate than compete with other EHS organizations, "If we have to compete, let''s do it."

He also called for the unification and consolidation of AIHA and its local chapters, strengthening support for special interests in the profession, and working with others to develop good standards of industrial hygiene practices.

by Stephen Minter

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