For the first time, the boards of directors of the two major safety professional and industrial hygiene groups met Sept. 25 in New Orleans to discuss mutual opportunities in promoting environmental, safety and health.
The presidents of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) said the one-day summit conference was to determine one or two easily obtainable goals, with objectives, to accomplish in the current fiscal year.
In a letter to the editor for the October issue of Occupational Hazards, AIHA President Jim Thornton and ASSE President Frank H. Perry stated that "we are optimistic that the interaction between the boards will foster mutual respect by all the professionals involved."
The idea behind the joint meeting was birthed when the two groups' executive committees met in 1998 in San Antonio to open dialogue. Both groups were "cautiously optimistic" that they could partner in some areas, Perry said. Last year's meeting led to the Sept. 25 summit.
The one or two goals, Perry said, could be as simple as holding a symposium, jointly sponsored, or some other type of activity. Another idea would be to exchange instructors at the two groups' professional development conferences.
"We're going to crawl before we walk," he said, adding it's unknown what goals will be determined. "At the end of the day Saturday, there should be a task force formed and a timeline."
Previous involvement between AIHA (13,000 members) and ASSE (33,000 members) was limited to regional events. "At the grassroots level, there appears to be a lot of good involvement," Perry said. "We need to bring this up to the national level."
In the past, there has been reluctance by some members from each organization to have the two groups work together, Perry said. Concerns have included protecting a group's "turf" and jobs, educational differences between members of the two groups and cooperation leading to a merger and the elimination of one of the groups.
"Each group brings a certain amount of bias and prejudice to this meeting," Perry said. "The only way we are going to get rid of those is to sit down and meet one another, learn about one another and discuss issues with our colleagues. It will be an enlightening process for us all."
A long-term goal, Thornton and Perry said, is an "umbrella" organization that would combine forces of AIHA, ASSE and other groups to achieve a greater impact, such as on federal legislation. Any groups that join up with this federation would maintain autonomy.
"I see a gravitational pull bringing these organizations together, even today," Thornton said.
There can be strength in numbers for groups with the same goal, Perry said. "We're all trying to protect the health and the safety of workers and protect the environment," he said.