Testing, Testing: Revalidating the CIH Exam, Re-Envisioning the IH Profession

May 1, 2009
When a panel of certified industrial hygienists met to discuss updating the CIH exam, they talked about a lot more than testing practices.

Fill a room with 10 experienced industrial hygienists from all walks of the profession, and you're bound to create a dialogue about the nature of the industry — not only where it is now, but where it's going.

That's what happened when the American Board of Industrial Hygienists (ABIH) convened a job analysis panel in 2008 to revalidate the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) exam, which is updated approximately every 5 years. Panel members were certified industrial hygienists who work as consultants, for large corporations, in government, in higher education and more.

“We chose people from a variety of practice settings, geographic regions, education levels and years of experience,” says Ron Drafta, CIH, CSP, ABIH's certification program manager.

In addition to conference calls and other communications, the panelists met for 2 days in Chicago in July 2008. There, they reviewed the existing CIH testing blueprint and drafted an updated set of nine tasks and three domains that Drafta says “were determined to be critical to the role of the candidate who meets the minimum ABIH eligibility standards.” ABIH then distributed a survey with the panel's findings to 1,000 randomly selected professionals, who rated each task and domain and ultimately validated what the job analysis members found.

Don't expect a complete exam overhaul, however. “There aren't major, significant changes,” Drafta explains. Instead, any modifications reflect “the subject matter and how it's presented.”

In other words, the updated exam represents a gradual evolution — much like what the IH profession iself is experiencing.


While the CIH exam was at the forefront of the panelists' conversations, their discussion inevitably took a broader focus.

“We had some heated discussion as to what industrial hygiene actually is,” says Michael Larranaga, Ph.D., PE, CIH, CSP, of Oklahoma State University. “A lot of people felt it was changing.”

In Larranaga's view, those changes include a shift to industrial hygiene work in the greater community; encompassing more emergency response planning; and increasingly becoming a business of consultants. These developments, he says, should be reflected in the exam.

Other panel members stress that while the profession may evolve in some areas, its core practices and purpose remain the same.

“In some respects, I don't think it's changing at all,” says Perry Logan, CIH, manager of corporate industrial hygiene at 3M and panel member. “From just a very basic science perspective, it's not changing. What we're trying to do is understand and manage exposures appropriately to protect workers and make our businesses remain efficient and effective … We're still trying to protect people, but how things are going to be delivered has changed, and that will continue to evolve.”

For example, panel members discussed the implications of the growing number of consultants in the field.


According to Larranaga, the profession has changed to the point where roughly 35-45 percent of industrial hygienists are working as consultants. The CIH exam, therefore, should take into consideration that industrial hygienists today aren't always working in one set workplace.

“In the workplace, everything is more controlled. In consulting, you don't always know what people are exposed to,” Larranaga explains.

Carter Ficklen, CIH, program manager of Mainthia Technologies and a member of the job analysis panel, agrees that there are more consultants now than in years past, but isn't sure it will remain that way. “I think things go through cycles. That may increase for a while and then come down if companies may decide to hire more people,” he says. “That will always be in flux.”

But he does allow that the nature of consultants' work is not quite the same. “Consultants are brought in to address one particular area. They come in and do one thing, and then they're gone, so they need to develop very different skill sets,” he says. “In consulting, it's diverse — you see a lot of different things and may not get integrated in business.”

Gayla McCluskey, CIH, CSP, ROH, QEP, former president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and current vice president of the Academy of Industrial Hygiene, was not a panel member but weighed in on this topic. She noted that within the last 3 or 4 years, AIHA membership for the first time was not largely employed by private industry.

“For years and years, our largest membership was people who worked for companies,” she says. “Recently, we've seen that shift where they are not the majority of our members anymore. I don't see that trend really changing unless there's some huge impetus to hire more people, as a result of the things the government's doing with the stimulus package.”

McCluskey says this trend may create a demand for different services, such as small business consulting services, and also could create additional networking opportunities for professionals. On the other hand, Drafta points out that the surge in consultants potentially could lead to fewer opportunities for traditional classroom continuing education courses that are sometimes available through large employers. This means industrial hygienists may have to seek out alternative educational methods, such as distance education. ABIH responds to this need by posting lists of distance learning courses on its Web site, Drafta notes.

In addition to the issues impacting the profession domestically, these professionals also considered the opportunities and challenges presented on the global scale.


As Ficklen points out, “Industrial hygiene is an increasingly global practice.” And according to Logan and other panel members, the CIH exam has its place in the global outlook of the profession.

“We use the CIH exam as a benchmark for people practicing industrial hygiene,” Logan says. “It's just a great training for anyone regardless of what country you're in. I would say there is a significant potential impact of leveraging the CIH outside the [United States].”

McCluskey, meanwhile, reflected on how developing countries can be convinced that health and safety is important for workers, and that people outside of the developed world are trained to practice industrial hygiene.

“Obviously, as the lesser developed parts of the world industrialize, they will face the same challenges that we did decades ago,” McCluskey notes. “The concern is that we have people that can help them address these issues. We're trying not to go in with the ‘U.S. way’ or the way things have been done in the past because there are some inefficiencies, obviously, in the way we practice now.”

Inefficiencies could have devastating effects on companies in today's economic climate. Industrial hygienists, therefore, must be prepared.


The industrial hygiene profession is not immune to the economic crisis. McCluskey points out that economic woes have caused consolidation within the industry, which leads to an increase in consultants and causes some companies to change the way they address health and safety. Some panel members suggest that industrial hygienists can't afford to ignore their companies' greater financial climate or neglect to connect it to their work.

“Now more than ever, you need to speak in business terms,” Ficklen explains. “You have to understand the industry you're in, and have to understand the proper means to communicate with managers and workers. You've gotta keep moving, keep eyeing, always keeping your skill sets sharp.”

Larranaga, however, insists it's not all doom and gloom. “Jobs are still out there,” he says. “We've seen a big increase in health care hiring industrial hygienists. Nuclear power has been hiring lately.”

Still, industrial hygienists may have to make some changes to survive in this tough climate.

“Just like every profession, it's having us look critically at ourselves and how we do business. I think in the short term, it is quite painful, but I do think it's going to have us find ways to become more effective and efficient,” Logan says.


Even while covering issues as wide-ranging as the economy and the profession's evolving nature, every conversation during the panel meeting ultimately focused on the goal of revalidating the CIH exam. Exposure assessment, for example, was one area that panelists felt adequately must be represented in the test.

“Over the past 10 years, there have been some significant changes in the understanding about exposure assessment — in the strategies that allow us to become more efficient and more effective,” Logan says. “So it was really important to get those pieces into the certification exam.”

He likens the importance of exposure assessment to visiting a physician after suffering from symptoms. Ideally, the physician makes an accurate diagnosis and then prescribes a treatment. But if the doctor makes an incorrect diagnosis, the treatment also is off the mark.

“That same analogy is true with industrial hygiene,” Logan explains. “We need to make sure we properly understand the exposure in order to prescribe the proper controls, if any, for a given situation.”

As a result of the panel's discussions, “Exposure Assessment Principles and Practice” is now the first domain in the CIH exam's classification system.


The CIH exam isn't exactly a walk in the park — it had a pass rate of 38 percent in 2008, and industrial hygienists who take the exam typically must spend months studying if they hope to pass. As certified industrial hygienists themselves, the panelists understand the challenging nature of both the exam and preparation strategies.

“For 6 months, it was pretty much what I did,” Ficklen says of studying for the exam. “It seemed like a painful, lonely process — it doesn't have to be that way.” He adds that older generations tended to take a more isolated, “every man for himself” approach to the test, while younger generations are more willing to network, communicate and learn together in their preparation methods. Additionally, some companies help groom their industrial hygienists planning to take the exam.

3M, for example, offers professional development and support by coaching employees through the preparation process, providing mentors to international workers attempting to take the exam and directing employees to appropriate resources if they need help in specific areas. This also helps candidates network and share best practices, which in turn helps them become better industrial hygienists.

After all, that's a key part of the CIH exam's purpose, not to mention the panelists' goal: to improve the profession through certifying capable professionals with the best and most appropriate exam possible.

“I know people who have taken the CIH exam multiple times, failed it the first few times, and then passed it,” says Logan. “In the end, they say they're glad they failed because ‘I'm a much better hygienist as a result. If I got lucky and passed it the first time, I wouldn't be as good of a hygienist as I am today.’”

The CIH Exam

Test Stats

  • The CIH exam is offered twice a year, during spring and fall testing periods.

  • Approximately 400-500 people take the exam each year.

  • The pass rate in 2008 was 38 percent.

  • The updated exam will be administered beginning October 2009.


Effective March 13, 2009, ABIH received ANSI accreditation for the CIH exam. Drafta describes the accreditation application process as “rigorous” and says this accomplishment will give the exam more credibility internationally.


  • Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering or sanitary engineering, physics or graduate from an ABET-accredited program in industrial hygiene.

  • Applicants must document completion of 180 academic contact hours or 240 continuing education contact hours of industrial hygiene courses.

  • Applicants must have 4 years of employment in the professional practice of industrial hygiene and must be practicing “broad scope” industrial hygiene.

  • Applicants must obtain and produce two personal references.

Visit http://www.abih.org for detailed information on these requirements.

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