Beyond Conformity: Visioning the Future of Industrial Hygiene
Eileen Senn, MS, CIH
Presented May 23, 2000
Roundtable 221: Mission for the Millennium
Developing New Industrial Hygiene Tools and Methods
American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition
Imaginative visions of the future are essential if we are to move beyond conformity and tap into our creative thinking and problem-solving ability. My vision starts 100 or 200 years from now, still in the infancy of the new millennium. Things have changed in many ways from how they are now. The impetus for much of the change was an epidemic beginning early in the millennium of depression, infertility, and sexual dysfunction in adults and allergies, asthma, childhood cancers, autism and other brain disorders in children that were all linked to workplace and environmental exposure to chemicals, ELF radiation, bioaerosols, and stress, including overwork. Social policy swung dramatically in favor of workplace health and safety. For example, a thirty-hour work week without reduction in pay or benefits is now the law, as well as four weeks of paid vacation.
A newly certified industrial hygienist, Rebecca, receives her first few job assignments. She, like most industrial hygienists of this time, works for OSHA, the North American government agency with the responsibility and authority to regulate occupational health in all public and private sector workplaces in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. There are no longer corporate or consulting industrial hygienists. The irrationality of being economically dependent on employers while persuading them to protect workers had been recognized long ago. There are no longer any OSHA state plans, either. Unified OSHA jurisdiction has eliminated many inequities between workers in states and countries and public and private sectors that formerly existed. And, yes, OSHA also regulates private homes when necessary because of take-home exposures or because the home is being used as a workplace. OSHA has fully integrated its industrial hygiene, safety, medical, and educational professionals and its regulatory and consultative functions. Every OSHA office has an associated occupational health clinic. Individual workers and their families can self-refer to the clinics at no cost since the clinics are part of the national health care system. Every worker has a "smart card" that they present at the clinic that includes an employment and exposure history plus a video clip of their current job tasks. Employers pay these clinics to perform the biological monitoring and medical surveillance for workers and their families required by OSHA standards. OSHA staff may also refer workers or groups of workers to the clinics for evaluation as needed.
Getting back to Rebecca. She never has to reinvent the industrial hygiene wheel. All the information gathered by all the industrial hygienists who came before her is at her fingertips. This is possible because of the appearance of powerful micro-computers and the disappearance of economic incentives to hoard or hide information that troubled corporate and consulting industrial hygienists. Rebecca has been much better prepared for her job than we were. After undergraduate school, she completed three years of industrial hygiene training with OSHA that included both classroom and hands-on field work with a CIH. She has learned industrial hygiene both in theory and practice. In the process, Rebecca has mastered her professions extensive standards of practice. The standards are contained in well-honed protocols addressing recommended approaches to solving every sort of occupational health problem. By passing the CIH exam, which is, of course, based on the standards of practice, Rebecca has proven that she is qualified to begin to practice industrial hygiene. She reads over her first work assignments with anticipation, eager to join the ranks of the eight million other practicing OSHA industrial hygienists.
Rebeccas general job description is to work with management and workers at one hundred workplaces to comprehensively address occupational health issues. She has been assigned workplaces in four sectors -- clothing manufacture, dry cleaning, machine shops, and high-rise office buildings -- because they are considered to have relatively simple occupational health issues. Every few years, one of her sectors will be reassigned to an entry-level IH and she will be assigned a new sector with more challenging occupational health issues.
The first of Rebeccas specific assignments is to oversee implementation of a new work process at one of her workplaces. By law, OSHA receives notification of employers plans for new processes, equipment, and chemicals which cannot be implemented without OSHA clearance.
Rebecca plunges into her assignment starting with a computer review of similar processes using the OSHA process database. There she learns about what the process entails, workers tasks, and the potential chemical, physical, biological, radiological, and ergonomic hazards. She reviews the proposal, including schematics for the process, submitted by the employer with the OSHA notification. She uses the OSHA exposure monitoring database to retrieve air and wipe sampling data, noise and vibration surveys, and heat stress assessments from similar processes. She also uses the OSHA medical monitoring database to retrieve results of blood, urine, hearing and other tests from workers working in similar processes. Next she meets with management and workers to review the information and see the proposed site of the new operation. Colleagues from the safety and medical sections of OSHA and from the EPA join her at this meeting and tour so that all occupational and environmental aspects of the proposed process may be reviewed in a coordinated fashion. Rebecca consults the OSHA control technology database to see if there are specific controls recommended for the new process. If not, she may choose from six tiers of generic control technology. Rebecca and her colleagues prepare their reports of findings and recommendations, coordinate their recommendations, and issue their reports simultaneously. Rebeccas report has been reviewed and approved by her supervisor, a wise woman with 20 years of OSHA experience.
Rebeccas report is public information, available on the Internet, and many parties are interested in it. Management and workers, of course, are the primary audience but the vendors of the process equipment and chemicals proposed to be used also read it with interest since they know they must sell products that can obtain OSHA clearance. Rebeccas report lays out the various options that management has. Primary among them are recommendations for alternative processes with fewer health hazards. These she has retrieved from the OSHA substitution database. Next she enumerates the engineering, work practice, personal protective controls, and medical surveillance that will be required to be in place should the decision be made to go forward with the original proposal. The OSHA-mandated joint union-management health safety, and environment committee (HSEC) at the workplace will work with Rebeccas report and those of her colleagues over the next few weeks to arrive at a plan. Rebecca will be available to consult with them by phone, fax, e-mail, and in person as needed. She will review their final decision and the new process once it is operational.
Rebecca s second specific assignment is to investigate worker complaints of odors, visible emissions, eye, nose, and throat irritation, and coughing at one of her assigned workplaces. Her first step is to administer a health effects survey to the workers to get baseline data on the problem. She gets the survey from the OSHA health effects survey database containing structured questionnaires that measure the prevalence and severity of health effects associated with chemical irritants, allergens, peripheral nervous system toxins, central nervous system toxins, etc. Rebecca is well aware that, under the IH standards of practice, her goal is to achieve continuous reductions in health effects, biological monitoring results and exposure levels. Next, Rebecca, does a semi-quantitative exposure assessment using a palm- sized video multi-recorder that elegantly integrates most airborne chemical exposures, breaks out specific exposures such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, noise and temperature, and displays them as bar graphs on the video. Increases and decreases in exposures can be viewed simultaneously with workers activities. Opportunities to reduce airborne exposures are often revealed by studying these exposure videos. Rebecca also has unique tools for assessing skin absorption and ingestion. By law, a fluorescent material is added to all chemicals in commercial use so that chemicals can be seen on skin, clothing, tools, work surfaces, etc. under special illuminators. These illuminators are present in the lavatories, locker rooms and lunchrooms of all workplaces and are used by workers to inspect themselves for contamination before eating or leaving work at the end of the day. The ability to make chemical contamination visible with the illuminators has greatly reduced skin absorption, ingestion, and take-home exposure. Housekeeping crews also use the illuminators to be sure that cleaning measures have completely removed chemicals from the workplace. Rebecca reviews the OSHA-mandated design, maintenance, and performance records for the engineering controls at the operation as well as trends in air sampling and biological monitoring results that are routinely tracked by the HSEC at the workplace. She reviews the personal protective equipment in use, using the OSHA glove and clothing selection database. Using this database, she is easily able to access the latest information on what gloves and clothing are recommended for each chemical or chemical mixture. All PPE in Rebeccas time is disposable, approved by OSHA for use on only one work shift. PPE manufacturers (along with disposable diaper manufacturers) have been required by the EPA to implement a recycling program for all used PPE products. The used PPE will become part of encapsulated bales used for building houses, offices, dams, and other construction.
All respirators in Rebeccas time are positive pressure, supplied air. They are used mostly for non-production operations like confined space entry, maintenance, housekeeping and spill clean-up because most other exposures are engineered out by up-front design. The impossibility of filtering out thousands of possible chemicals and chemical mixtures was conceded long ago. Every workplace has breathing air installed routinely just like water, electric, gas, fiberoptic and other utilities. Workers just plug into the closest air supply to their work. Rebecca simply determines what type of mask or hood should be worn, where and when.
As part of her job, Rebecca assists the HSEC at her workplaces in planning and conducting pro-active workplace-specific training. She also produces workplace-specific educational materials for employers and workers. She has access to generic training programs and materials in the OSHA training database. The concept of Right-to-Know and RTK training was expanded many years ago beyond chemical hazards to include physical, biological, radiological, safety and ergonomic hazards. Training programs and materials are available in all these subject areas and in every language.
Rebecca performs her job in the context of a society where everyone takes occupational health and safety seriously. OSHA 200 Log data is submitted electronically by all employers each year to OSHA who makes the data available on the Internet. All hospitals, emergency rooms, OSHA clinics, HMOs, and private physicians code occupation and injury for every patient they see and this data is also reported to OSHA. The data is a rich source for determining occupational health research needs and priorities for interventions.
Thank you for listening to my vision. I know it contains just a few of the infinite possibilities for industrial hygiene in the new millennium. What is your vision for the future of industrial hygiene? Im sure each of you has at least one idea that could really make a difference. I would love to hear all about it!
You may contact Eileen Senn at firstname.lastname@example.org