It’s not an easy question to answer. There may be a few exceptions, but I have found scant evidence of general performance metrics for industrial hygiene that apply across multiple industry sectors and meet the needs of different levels within one organization — an ironic fact from a profession so extremely well versed in and focused on the art and science of exposure measurement.
Until recent years, most of the environmental health and safety key performance indicators available to senior managers have been limited to quantitative measures of safety and environmental performance and have focused on results, or “lagging indicators” (lost-time injuries and pollution releases).
Now corporations are increasingly interested in proactive measures, or “leading indicators” of EHS performance. Industrial hygiene staffs must see to it that the EHS metric that “rolls up” to corporate senior managers and the boardroom adequately reflects progress, or lack of progress, in the “H part” of EHS.
Traditional IH metrics of exposure assessment are crucial at the site and business unit levels, but generally fail to deliver against objectives at the corporate level. To compensate, progressive corporations have developed an exposure index along the lines of “Number or Percent of Exposures Greater than the Limit.” These numbers might be an adequate metric of IH performance for executives, but they fail to deliver what board members and external stakeholders need to determine acceptability of performance.
With all of its blemishes, this metric could be benchmarked with industry peers, drive performance improvement of industrial hygiene, and even assist in reversing the unfortunate decline of the IH profession, all with little to no fear of plaintiff attorneys having a field day with the data.
If a company already conforms to the best practices of exposure assessment, it has essentially all of the data needed to develop a Health Risk Index. Standard protocols and methodologies for exposure assessment have been widely available as early as the publication of the Occupational Exposure Sampling Strategy Manual by NIOSH in 1977. Another well-defined process is the excellent 1991 publication, A Strategy for Occupational Exposure Assessment, published by the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
The infrastructure for reporting health performance measures such as a Health Risk Index exists in many major corporations. Site operations of large corporations routinely report safety statistics at least monthly to business units and/or corporate. Plus, inexpensive software tools are now widely available that can deliver industrial hygiene metrics to senior management. These tools are essential to handle the complexity of the compilation that is required to combine industrial hygiene exposure assessment and roll it up to senior managers.
The next question is one that most vice presidents of EHS can anticipate. “How do we compare with our competitors?” Until more companies proactively begin to compile their existing exposure data in a readily comparable metric such as a Health Risk Index, you won’t have a good answer for that one.