I find this response disturbing. Even if you are not an industrial hygienist or member of AIHA, there are trends affecting the EHS profession that need to be addressed. Groups such as the AIHA (or maybe soon to be called OHSEA), the American Society of Safety Engineers, and the National Safety Council are needed more now than ever before. It's partly a matter of our own survival, because:
1. Managers perceive 'no problems.' I believe that most employers are beginning to think that our services are becoming less important as major risks have been eliminated or reduced. For example, the front page of the Dec. 29, 1998, Wall Street Journal reported that the 1997 workplace injury and illness rate is the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) first began reporting the data back in the early 1970s. Some employers may naively think that if things are that good, they can cut back on EHS staff and hire anyone to maintain the function.
The simple truth is that there are many more EHS risks to address, and these risks will require greater effort and knowledge to control. Employers and the public must understand that EHS practitioners need more support, not less. EHS associations and organizations should be the primary voices to carry this message.
2. Managers don't value our skills. Check out the recent article, "What does management think about safety and health?" in ISHN's December 1998, issue (or visit www.ishn.com). Based on ISHN's 15th annual White Paper survey, the article indicates that top managers rate industrial hygiene low on their list of skill priorities for the EHS function, but rate it high as a possible candidate for outsourcing.
3. EHS roles are changing. And associations, as our most visible representatives to the public, the media, and lawmakers, must reflect these changes. For example, in 1997, the AIHA Redefinition Task Force found that only 15 percent of the members practised IH full-time. Nearly 70 percent also practised safety, and slightly more than 50 percent worked in environmental areas.
Other associations that represent people working in the EHS field are not smirking at AIHA's dilemma. Association names that were established long ago (AIHA was founded in 1939) may not accurately reflect their members' activities today. Consider the American Society of Safety Engineers. ASSE was founded in 1911. It has 33,000 members, but less than 10 percent are 'engineers.'
I voted to change AIHA's name because I believe the new name more aptly defines the composition and activities of the membership now and for the foreseeable future. But I'm going to hold the leadership of the association more accountable for enthusiastically promoting industrial hygiene; or occupational hygiene or occupational health, as those terms become more appropriate and better understood. Everyone should be miffed if the leadership sways more toward safety and the environment simply because those concepts may be more accepted by employers and the public.
By Dan Markiewicz, CIH, CSP, CHMM, senior industrial hygienist with Aeroquip Vickers, Inc., Maumee, Ohio.