October 3, 2023 / Ina Xhani

Facilitating Research in OEHS

In 2021, members of AIHA and ACGIH created the Defining the Science Advisory Group (DTS-AG). The purpose of this collaborative venture was to develop and maintain a national occupational and environmental health and safety research agenda endorsed by the AIHA Board of Directors. Recently, Donald Weekes, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, chair and founding member of DTS-AG, spoke with SynergistNOW about the advisory group's goals and mission, its achievements so far, and what it hopes to achieve in the future.

A National OEHS Research Agenda

Weekes underscored the significance of a national OEHS research agenda for AIHA and ACGIH, as well as for worker health and safety. "The national OEHS research agenda helps to delineate the key health and safety items to be examined in detail by academia and other researchers for the near term," Weekes said. "The agenda also notifies health and safety practitioners what they can expect to be the key OEHS parameters that will be developed by researchers in the future."

Both AIHA and ACGIH staunchly support the application of scientific knowledge to mitigate occupational and environmental hazards. With a well-defined research agenda in place, according to Weekes, both organizations can effectively channel their collective efforts toward researching hazards, providing the highest levels of protection for workers, and supporting all stakeholders committed to OEHS.

Process and Collaboration

The DTS-AG includes representatives from both AIHA and ACGIH, along with liaisons from governmental agencies like NIOSH. When the group was formed, its initial task involved soliciting research ideas from within professional organizations and external research groups. The DTS-AG diligently assessed the proposals it received, ultimately selecting the most promising candidates for inclusion in the research agenda. This collaborative effort culminated in January 2023 with the joint publication of the inaugural Defining the Science Research Agenda by AIHA and ACGIH.

Gaps and Solutions

When addressing the science and practice gaps identified within the field of worker protection, the research agenda adopts a twofold approach. The Practice to Research section tackles crucial challenges that have hindered industrial hygiene practitioners in their workplace investigations. These challenges encompass quantifying the human and financial costs associated with occupational diseases, enhancing the collection and dissemination of occupational exposure monitoring data, and refining exposure and risk assessment methodologies. Ultimately, this section aims to enhance decision-making based on monitoring data. The complementary Research to Practice section outlines strategic steps, such as the routine use of statistical tools, the acceleration of exposure predictor models, the inclusion of psychosocial disorders and mental health considerations in Total Worker Health initiatives, and the development of heat stress management strategies. Together, these initiatives within the research agenda aim to bridge critical gaps in worker protection science and practice.

Notable Achievements

When asked about the notable achievements and successful outcomes stemming from projects initiated under the research agenda, Weekes listed several key accomplishments. These include the application of principles from the ISO 31000 standard on risk management to IH, the development of a technical guide for wildfire impact assessments within the OEHS profession, the creation of a report on physiological monitoring for heat strain, and the securing of funding for a new project aimed at the development of an innovative heat stress application. For Weekes, these accomplishments demonstrate the significant progress and impact of the research agenda.

Looking Ahead

According to Weekes, notable initiatives on the horizon include the publication of the second edition of the research agenda, which will incorporate research ideas on impulse noise measurement and assessment, mercury detection on metal surfaces, and heating and decomposition materials. The results of the thermal stress brainstorming session will be added to the DTS guidance document (PDF). A brainstorming session on direct-reading instruments and a town hall webinar for research and development officers in AIHA local sections will take place in October or early November 2023. Members are encouraged to add new research ideas to the web portal, review and comment on existing ideas, match research ideas with researchers and funding sources, and create content designed to eliminate or reduce barriers to practice.

To learn more about the Defining the Science Research Agenda, visit our website. Updated versions of the agenda will be released periodically as new ideas are submitted, reviewed, and prioritized. To view or comment on previously submitted ideas, visit the AIHA DTS webpage. If you know of an organization that is interested in the research agenda, please fill out this form.

Ina Xhani

Ina Xhani is AIHA’s communications specialist.


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