To face future challenges head-on, environmental, health and safety (EHS) professional organizations need to form a "federation" to become a common voice, according to a speaker Monday at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHce) in New Orleans.
Morton Corn, Ph.D., B.Ch.E., CSP, president of Morton Corn and Associates, told a few hundred AIHce attendees that groups such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) may never agree to merge into one or two organizations. Yet, they should be able to form alliances and partnerships to further the cause of the EHS profession.
"A federation would signal to the rest of world that these fields are related," said Corn, whose environmental consulting and engineering practice in Queenstown, Md., provides EHS litigation support.
With one, solidified voice, Corn said, the EHS profession could combine forces to battle against such challenges as private industry suing ACGIH over its authority to issue Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and Congress'' use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the OSHA ergonomics standard. Instead, "we are duking it out with our colleagues" over "turf battles" as competing organizations.
Corn listed advantages to forming a federation:
- Professional titles. If member organizations of a federation could agree on mutually beneficial certifications, it would help convey to state and local governments, as well as the public, a consistency in what the professional titles mean and their importance to the EHS field.
- Standards development. When ACGIH is sued over its TLVs, for example, a federation would be better equipped to deal with such a challenge, especially financially, than one organization by itself.
- Governmental affairs. A federation would increase the profession''s efficiency and effectiveness in influencing governmental policies. An alliance of 50,000 EHS professionals would carry more clout than each association on its own, Corn said. "Having been in Washington, I can tell you that numbers speak."
Hank Lick, Ph.D., CIH, installed this week as AIHA president, realizes that "each organization has a unique perspective of the world" and that "sometimes it''s hard to get beyond those perspectives and have meaningful conversations" about working together. Still, he said, with the convergence of the proper leadership, timing and events, it may be possible one day to seek an alliance such as a federation to further the EHS cause.
"By ourselves, each crying out in the wilderness, not too many people hear," Lick said. "If unified, people would hear us."
At this point, "pettiness" between the groups often makes their viewpoints polarized, especially concerning federal government issues, Lick said. "We really need to say that health, safety and environmental is our ''religion.'' Yes, there''s different ways to ''pray,'' but if we don''t speak out for workers, who speaks for them?"
Lick noted how progress often comes following difficult times. As a former EHS leader at Ford Motor, he noted how the auto industry turned itself around when it nearly went bankrupt several years ago. Recent setbacks in the EHS profession, he said, may help trigger a realization that the professional organizations need to work together.
"Maybe this CRA and [TLV] lawsuit business isn''t so bad. Maybe through it all, we can see a new concept [such as a federation]," Lick said. "Sometimes you have to look into hell before you find Jesus."
Whether or not a federation is the "salvation" of the EHS profession, Corn said, an alliance will never work unless leadership in the professional organizations develops ways to bring the issue before their memberships. "We need some giants to step up to the plate."
by Todd Nighswonger