AIHce: Professional Enrichment Key to Future

June 7, 2007
In a presentation at the 2007 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce) in Philadelphia, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Director Dr. John Howard asserted that core competency enrichment and enlargement and proving the value of industrial hygiene should be the goals of the profession in the 21st century.

Howard argued that industrial hygiene's core competency – exposure assessment – “seems unlikely to meet the demands of the 21st century” because it has been “circumscribed, I think, by a science and a practice that was limited primarily to single-agent exposure assessment models.”

Howard challenged the industrial hygiene field to add mixed-exposure assessment to the “current handbook approach.”

“Science and practice need to reflect the reality of exposure, which is often multi agents acting synergistically,” Howard said. “Furthermore, assessing exposure as if only a single route of exposure is important represents again a constrained approach to risk assessment. If exposure assessment remains constrained by the 20th century approach, then advances in risk assessment will be constrained also.”

New Century, New Competencies

In Howard's view, there are more than enough “unmet challenges” in occupational and environmental safety and health “to sustain a demand for services from an enriched and enlarged profession.”

“I believe, somewhat paradoxically, that the 21st century specialist in occupational and environmental safety and health must possess the competencies of a multi-specialty generalist,” Howard asserted.

Howard said that he envisions industrial hygienists potentially developing a number of new competencies, including:

  • Building on current knowledge to demonstrate the link between the quality of the indoor environment and worker productivity.
  • “Evaluating and structuring the way work is organized to achieve optimal design parameters for human health and productivity.”
  • Meeting the safety and health needs of multicultural work forces.
  • Assessing and controlling musculoskeletal risks among aging workers.
  • Developing, implementing and measuring the performance of integrated programs aimed at ensuring both on- and off-the job safety and health.
  • “Controlling risks from thousands of 20th century biological, physical [and] chemical agents in spite of out-of-date and nonexistent exposure limits.”
  • “Developing risk management strategies for emerging 21st century exposure such as nanomaterials through international standard-setting entities, as opposed to the traditional – but largely dormant – national standard-setting agencies.”
  • Developing cost-effective, establishment-level screening tools and control strategies for small- and medium-size businesses.
  • Participating in a global exposure surveillance database “by working to break down the establishment-level proprietary barriers that prevent the professional from continuing and contributing fully to the social value of occupational and environmental hygiene.”
  • “Assessing and managing safety and health risk to global work forces.”
  • “Showing all of us how to survive the first wave of the next influenza pandemic.”

“The limiting issues are whether educational programs can produce graduates educated in areas not currently viewed as within the scope of the profession, whether an enriched and enlarged professional identity would be acceptable to those currently in the profession and whether the value that members of the profession bring to the economic health of any enterprise – the value proposition – can be quantified and socially marketed,” Howard said.

“Industrial Hygienist” No More?

Reflecting his opinion that the industrial hygiene field should enlarge its professional identify, Howard several times used the term “occupational and environmental hygiene.” In a question-and-answer session after his presentation, Howard admitted that he struggles with the term “industrial hygiene” as a professional moniker.

“To project into the 21st century with that word, I'm not sure that the word 'industrial' has much meaning anymore,” Howard said.

The Value Proposition

Howard said that industrial hygienists in the 21st century need to measure and quantify how the profession indeed brings value to its constituents – who include businesses, workers and their families and the public.

He added that it will be a difficult task.

“Proving impact in economic terms requires data specific to current professional activities, but most available data is focused on short-term impact and is largely proprietary,” Howard noted.

Howard praised the joint efforts of the American Industrial Hygiene Association and NIOSH to make the case for the value of the profession.

“There is no doubt that developing readily available, standardized metrics for measuring establishment-level cost-effectiveness for the profession will greatly aid and quantify that value proposition and it should be the vital mission of the profession,” Howard said.

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