Facing and Embracing Change
In the April issue of The Synergist, AIHA President Kathy Murphy reflected on changes in the industry and in our organization in her president’s message, “What’s Happening in Our Industry.” It is a compelling article, worth reading—and rereading. Here, I would like to weigh in on Kathy’s message.
Kathy opens with a discussion of how our industry has changed and expanded beyond industrial hygiene work since AIHA’s founding more than 80 years ago. We have all seen those changes—and we see them now on an almost daily basis. As an industry, we are outgrowing the term “industrial hygienist” to describe who we are and what we do. As Kathy puts it, the name “quite frankly no longer reflects everything we do.”
Increasingly, core responsibilities formerly managed by traditional IH professionals are now being performed by safety professionals, EHS generalists, and “technician-level” practitioners. As we all know, much of this change is driven by corporations eliminating in-house IH staff as part of cost-cutting moves. But we are also seeing “industrial hygiene” programs in universities shift to “occupational health,” “occupational health and safety,” and “environmental and occupational health.” This is happening at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Because of these changes, we at AIHA believe the term “occupational health and safety” (OHS) is more inclusive, encompassing everyone who practices traditional IH as well as its adjacent fields. As “occupational health and safety” and similar terms become more widely used and recognized, evolving to “OHS” when discussing our industry will serve us well.
That said, IHs deserve proper credit for all the work they have done and continue to do. Within our tight-knit community, I’m certain some of our members will continue to refer to themselves as IHs. Evolving to the term OHS as an organization won’t undermine the IH community or the highly respected CIH credential. In fact, this change will help people understand the role IHs play as scientists and professionals. It will increase the visibility of the profession among corporations and other potential employers, those choosing or changing career paths, and the general public. As our industry confronts the worst pandemic in 100 years, a change to OHS will help the public associate the work of our members with “health.” This in turn will stimulate demand for OHS scientists in the workplace. And it will help us recruit the next generation of professionals into our ranks.
At AIHA, we have been working for years to address the evolution of our profession, engaging with those in the industry to understand your needs and concerns moving forward. The months ahead will reveal the exciting new direction for AIHA.