Standard 1910.1020 “Access to employee exposure and medical records” is the most important and far-reaching of OSHA’s regulations. When the standard became effective more than two decades ago, it could not have envisioned the explosive growth of global chemical exposure information such as REACH, ToxNet, HERO, among many others; GHS 2012 requirements for new safety data sheets; and health concerns triggered, such as the level of chemical exposure above which no person should be exposed — derived no effect levels (DNELs)— when PELs and TLVs are absent.  

The epidemiological foundation of the standard to require maintenance of exposure and medical records for the duration of employment plus 30 years, with access to employees or their representatives, even when the employee is deceased, necessitates even the most casual employer to become very cautious with its requirements. An employer’s failure, for example, to inform employees of the standard’s content upon hire and annually thereafter, as required at 1910.1020 (g)(1), sets the stage for a lack of transparency.  

IH report

Exposure records at 1910.1020(d)(1)(ii)(A) that include “sampling results, the collection methodology (sampling plan), a description of the analytical and mathematical methods used, and summary of other background data relevant to interpretation of the results obtained” provide the basic outline for industrial hygiene (IH) reports. The IH report also becomes a legacy, and maybe a liability, for industrial hygienist(s) that populate and create these records. 

Health professional

There are benefits to industrial hygienists within the standard. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1020(c)(9) “Health Professional” means a physician, occupational health nurse, industrial hygienist, toxicologist, or epidemiologist providing medical or other occupational health services to exposed employees. The standard at 1910.1020(f)(2)(iv) permits health professionals, among other things, to obtain chemical identity trade secret information, as necessary with appropriate confidentiality agreements.  Employer representatives without these titles are not authorized access by the standard to trade secrets.

Who’s an IH?

What’s in a name? The U.S. has governmental OSHA and NIOSH, member organizations such AIHA® and ACGIH®, and trade publications such as ISHN. ISHN generally refers to readers as EHS or OSH pros. ISO 45001:2018 uses OH&S throughout the international standard; although at definition 3.11, OH&S and OSH have the same meaning. The International Occupational Hygiene Association believes “occupational hygiene” is preferable to “industrial hygiene. “

Although title protection legislation at the federal and state levels have been contemplated, none currently exist that prohibit someone from calling themselves an industrial hygienist. The definition of industrial hygienist from OSHA, AIHA® and others remains wide and nearly every OHS pro performs various IH tasks. In short, you’re an industrial hygienist if you say you are. The CIH® however is a protected title, but not specified in 1910.1020.

IH qualifications

The OSHA 1910.1020 provisions above are a major reason why OHS pros should include “industrial hygienist” in their job title, even if indirectly. The following suggestions strengthen merits for accepting the title:

  1. Obtain certificate(s) from IH training programs;
  2. Join national or local IH association(s) such as AIHA® or ACGIH®;  
  3. Complete college course-work in IH subject(s);
  4. Write on IH topics for publications such as ISHN;
  5. Conduct training on IH topics at your workplace; or,
  6. Obtain the CIH®.  

Employer recognition

Many bosses of IHs don’t understand IH. Early in my career I was hired as a “industrial hygienist” at a corporation. The person who hired me knew IH. As typically happens in workplaces today, seemingly with more regularity, the boss who understood IH left the company and the new boss was generally clueless.  

I explained to the new boss what I did and why it was important through the requirements of 1910.1020.  The boss, like many people, rarely encountered an IH but appreciated what a physician, occupational health nurse, toxicologist, and epidemiologist do. The OSHA 1910.1020 standard elevated the prestige of an industrial hygienist to being a “health professional” in the boss’s mind. To strengthen the boss’s perception of the title, I did the six things mentioned above.

Everyone competes for recognition and perceived value of their position at the workplace. OSHA 1910.1020 is a tool to gain better recognition among a wide audience. Here’s how this may be accomplished:

  1. Thoroughly read 1910.1020 in its entirety along with association to other standards such as HazCom 1910.1200;
  2. Determine if there are gaps in compliance, such as no annual information to employees, IH report format inconsistent with standard record requirements, or no policy/procedure for employee representative(s) access to subject records;
  3. Develop updated training on the standard, and associated standards, for senior management -- including at a minimum HR, legal and your boss;
  4. Suggest to HR and your boss how the IH title may be included in your job description – if for no other reason than to have someone qualified onsite under the standard as “health professional” to access chemical trade secret information, if necessary.

Future of IH

Although 1910.1020 is generally thought to manage chemical exposures, the standard includes 1910.1020(c)(12)(iii), “… biological agent (bacteria, virus, fungus, etc.), or physical stress (noise, heat, cold, vibration, repetitive motion, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, hypo – or hyperbaric pressure etc.)”  that (among other things), “Has yielded positive evidence of an acute or chronic health hazard in testing conducted by, or known to, the employer.” It’s the latter, “known to” that has exploded with online information in the past few years.

Many of the above hazards that include biological agents, heat/cold, vibration, repetitive motion, hyperbaric pressure, etc. are subject to OSHA’s “General Duty” clause and are not addressed by a specific OSHA standard. Management of these hazards will, therefore, fall under various risk assessment and risk treatment options driven by IH anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control.  

Control of injury, because of its immediacy, is often the primary focus of OHS pros. An OHS pro’s success in prevent injuries opens the door for subtle and chronic illness to elevate in importance. Taking on more IH tasks, therefore, is inevitable. 

If an OHS pro must eventually accept additional tasks, it behooves them to prepare for an industrial hygienist title, and recognition, formally or informally, as a “health professional” as acknowledged in a government regulation.