December 15, 2020 / Mark Ames

Growth, Transformation, Accomplishment: AIHA’s Year in Government Relations

Reflecting on the year, I’m still struck by how surreal it has been. In my mind, the start of 2020 is like the halcyon days of my youth, full of romanticized peace, tranquility, and stability. The reality is that even before the pandemic, occupational and environmental health and safety public policymaking was a constant process of building, transformation, and growth. It was, and has always been, an energetic, all-hands race to identify pressing OEHS problems and solve them using every tool available to us. The motivation has been urgent because nothing less than the health and safety of those we love and work with are on the line. It is from this vantage point, where hindsight and foresight align, and with hope on the horizon, that we can look back on how far we’ve come and understand the path forward.

Let’s go back to February 2020, when the pandemic was little more than a whisper. At that time, in the cold of winter, I joined a group of AIHA volunteers to talk about the heat. Together, we traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, to testify before state legislators in support of a bill that would protect workers from occupational exposure to heat stress. It was an exciting day—for some of the volunteers, it was their first time testifying, providing them with a unique, hands-on opportunity to actively work with policymakers to craft and support legislation. The excitement grew in the days to come, as the House passed the bill with overwhelming support, the Senate unanimously passed it, and the governor signed the bill into law, representing a major win for AIHA, OEHS professionals, workers, and others.

As the pandemic spread, AIHA took action, meeting with countless organizations, holding informational events, supporting legislation, and working with governmental entities to identify and meet workplace protection needs. One of our signature accomplishments has been the Back to Work Safely guidance documents. Many of these documents are available in Spanish, and with the help of our volunteers, Government Relations Committee, and local section leaders, these documents have been downloaded more than 1 million times and referenced by federal and state governments, businesses, other nonprofits, and media outlets, shining a public spotlight on how OEHS professionals protect workers and their communities.

AIHA, leading a coalition of other OEHS stakeholder organizations, also succeeded in getting the federal government to update its guidance to specify that “workers who anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control workplace conditions that may cause workers' illness or injury” are considered “critical infrastructure workers” during the pandemic. This was another significant accomplishment for OEHS professionals nationwide, achieved with the help of our volunteers.

During the pandemic, the nation also faced historic natural disasters, which introduced new complexities in protecting workers and their communities. In response, AIHA took action, adding new content to our Disaster Response Resource Center, and initiating a new partnership with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program (NIEHS WTP). Together, we produced a new document, Guidance to Protect Volunteers from COVID-19 During Natural Disaster Response and Recovery. This document is available in Spanish, and we plan to translate it into additional languages, further expanding its impact.

Currently, AIHA leaders are meeting with members of the Biden-Harris transition team to educate them about the important roles that OEHS professionals play in protecting workers and their communities. Just as we have with previous administrations, AIHA will continue working on a nonpartisan basis with the Biden administration, members of Congress, and policymakers at the state and local levels.

Going forward, AIHA is producing a new public policy agenda and strategic plan for government relations, which will be unveiled early next year, building on our accomplishments and charting the course for continued success.

Would you like to help right now? Email me if you’d like to join AIHA’s Government Relations Committee or be a guest on AIHA’s 5 on the Frontline podcast, which features the stories of how OEHS professionals like you are solving workplace health and safety problems, and what policymakers can do to help.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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