September 18, 2018 / Mark Ames

Guardians in the Storm

The world is alive. Everywhere you look, creation and destruction continue in an endless, turbulent cycle. Caught in the middle of this are people: their homes, workplaces, and refuges of leisure damaged or destroyed, exposing them and their loved ones to hazards of every sort. Now, in the midst of hurricane season, with thousand-year flooding striking with frightening frequency, with wildfires occurring throughout the year, and volcanoes spewing forth their beautiful destruction, it is tempting to sit down, paralyzed by these titanic hazards, and believe that someone else will heed the calls of help—but that is not our way. The truth is that we, together with other professionals, are the response. As is often said, industrial hygienists are the guardians of workplace safety—this extends to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

To quote AIHA’s document on “Industrial Hygienists’ Role and Responsibilities In Emergency Preparedness and Response” (member login required):

Industrial hygienists have and continue to serve incident commanders, governmental agencies, the private sector, and the community in responding to various disasters, hazardous materials releases, and terrorism events. IHs bring a wide range of health and safety expertise to support an incident commander, a Local Emergency Planning Committee, and various support agencies to ensure prevention of injuries and illnesses among responders and the surrounding area.

Industrial hygienists play a significant role in protecting the lives of our nation’s response personnel, its support staff, and the surrounding community. Industrial hygienists’ technical expertise in health, safety and environmental health issues is applicable to a variety of natural disasters, hazardous chemical, biological or radiological releases, and terrorism events. Industrial hygienists can effectively identify and control risks during pre-planning, emergency response, and consequence management phases of an incident.

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) develop emergency response plans. While environmental, public health, community groups, and others are required members of LEPCs, IHs are not. This means that unless we specifically seek membership on or other forms of involvement with these groups, governments and the workers and general public they serve may not benefit from the expertise of IHs—expertise that is perfectly suited to address hazards arising from disasters.

With this in mind, why not take things to the next level? Learn more about federal, state, and local emergency preparedness and response efforts and how you can get involved. Please also feel free to send me an email for additional information and assistance.

Thank you for your dedicated volunteerism!

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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