AIHA’s New Public Policy Agenda
For more than 80 years, AIHA has responded to the evolving needs of its members. Within the sphere of government relations, this responsiveness has required increasingly sophisticated interactions with policymakers. To that end, AIHA’s Board of Directors recently approved a new Public Policy Agenda, which is built on four pillars:
- increasing the number of occupational and environmental health and safety professionals in the United States
- increasing the knowledge and skills of OEHS professionals in the U.S.
- increasing public awareness of the roles and value of OEHS professionals in the U.S.
- increasing protections for workers in the U.S. from the risk of OEHS hazards
The Public Policy Agenda was crafted over several months with the input of hundreds of AIHA volunteers, including officers of AIHA's local sections and volunteer groups, the Government Relations Committee, and AIHA’s Board of Directors. Building upon the 2019–2020 agenda, which contained 15 priority areas, the new Public Policy Agenda marks a phase in the evolution of AIHA’s government relations activities. It increases the association's focus on those activities, integrates them more coherently with the rest of the enterprise, analyzes the root causes of challenges that the association is well-positioned to address, and recommends actionable solutions.
For example, to meet the goal of increasing the number of OEHS professionals in the U.S., the Public Policy Agenda divides the problem into supply- and demand-side issues. On the supply side, barriers to entry into OEHS include high school and college dropout rates, disparities in educational access and opportunity, and competition with other professions. Overall, 6 percent of students drop out of high school (although this number varies greatly based on gender, ethnicity, and geography). At the collegiate level, an astounding 40 percent of undergraduate students drop out of college. The result is that only about one-third of the U.S. population has completed four years or more of college, which creates intense competition among all professions requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.
On the demand side, the fact that that about 90 percent of businesses in the U.S. have fewer than 20 employees makes it difficult for many employers to obtain an OEHS professional's services. The Public Policy Agenda notes that “A combination of limited awareness and understanding of OEHS, financial struggles, and challenges communicating the business case for OEHS services has resulted in historic pressures that suppress demand for OEHS professionals and services.”
Addressing these immense challenges requires focus and coordinated activities. Solutions include but are not limited to:
- encouraging elementary and secondary school students to take science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses
- ensuring that students at all grade levels are made aware of and encouraged to pursue OEHS careers
- encouraging elementary and secondary schools to highlight OEHS within the core educational curriculum
- encouraging secondary school-sponsored career fairs that feature OEHS
- working with policymakers to create or support government-sponsored scholarship and grant programs for students to pursue OEHS careers and ensuring such programs are fully funded
- working with schools and policymakers to ensure that secondary school students can earn credits applicable toward OEHS college degrees
- working with schools and policymakers to ensure that secondary school students can earn high school graduation credits by taking an OSHA 10- or 30-hour training
- making students aware that a two-year associate degree can serve as a stepping stone toward an OEHS career
- maintaining and growing NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers, which are university-based multidisciplinary centers that educate and train OEHS professionals
- working with the U.S. Armed Forces to promote careers in OEHS to active military, military reservists, and veterans
- creating, maintaining, and growing partnerships between businesses, governments, universities, and nonprofits that foster job growth, training, innovation, and research
- working with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the White House, and Congress to ensure that SBA loans, grants, and initiatives incentivize businesses to hire OEHS professionals
A similar analysis is provided for the other Public Policy Agenda goals. Each solution requires a project plan, metrics of success, timelines, and tracking, which is exactly what AIHA is focused on producing as we enter the implementation phase.