It Takes a Village
We’ve just passed the halfway mark of 2020, and the first several weeks of the year (prior to the arrival of the pandemic) feel like a very distant memory to me—and perhaps to many of you as well. As was discussed at the recent annual membership meeting, SARS-CoV-2 and the resulting disease COVID-19 have created what several have called a “black swan” event for the occupational health/industrial hygiene (OH/IH) profession.
I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge the sweat equity invested by many of our technical committees and eager volunteers rising to the challenge of dispelling countless rumors and providing clear, practical guidance to the public. A brief chronology of our efforts follows:
- In February, AIHA created its Coronavirus Outbreak Resource Center, which is updated periodically with links to public health resources available for OH/IH professionals working to support front-line workers and personnel fighting the pandemic.
- In collaboration with ACOEM (American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine) and the AHA (American Hospital Association), we issued a call for PPE donations.
- Within a matter of weeks, several volunteer groups stepped up and began developing new guidance documents, infographics, and other materials addressing such matters as PPE, including respirator selection (selection, use, and re-use), cleaning and disinfection protocols, reopening closed buildings, ergonomic considerations for home offices, effective use of UV as a disinfection agent, and more. A repository of these new collateral assets can be found on the AIHA website.
- In late April, AIHA launched its Back to Work Safely initiative (based in part on the urging and support of noted celebrity Mark Cuban, who felt the federal government’s efforts were lacking). A volunteer member task force was quickly formed, and to date we have accrued twenty-plus guidance documents designed for small businesses. These are living documents that will evolve over time. Volunteer groups are encouraged to review and offer suggestions on how these can be improved upon.
- Also in late April, AIHA joined the National Safety Council’s SAFER (“Safe Actions for Employee Returns”) task force. This task force—comprising large and small Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, legal experts, public health professionals, medical professionals, and government agency representatives—is developing resources, such as guidebooks and checklists, to equip employers with the tools they need to protect workers.
- Through these efforts, AIHA has strengthened existing relationships with allied occupational and environmental health and safety organizations and forged new relationships. We conducted jointly sponsored webinars with APIC (Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology) as well as with other associations in the remediation/building space. Specific to the Back to Work Safely initiative, we have been working closely with the American Library Association, American Dental Association, Restoration Industry Association, and Retail Industry Leaders Association, to name just a few.
- We have garnered ample press, including with the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, USA Today, ABC News, and NPR. A running list can be found on AIHA.org.
- On the government relations front, we were successful in getting OH/IH professionals declared as “essential workers.” And we have continued to work closely with OSHA, NIOSH, and CDC in providing clear, practical guidance based on the expertise of our subject matter experts.
There is plenty more to be done. As you read this, we are drafting guidelines for the importance of engineered controls in ensuring buildings are safeguarded against transmission of SARS-CoV-2. We also support the hundreds of scientists who have called on the World Health Organization to accept the science behind fine particle (bioaerosol) transmission of the virus as a source of contagion.
At some point, a vaccine (or family of vaccines) will be found, and we’ll be able to get back to normal. When that happens, it is our hope that the role of the OH/IH profession will be more broadly recognized as an invaluable partner in protecting workers and the general public.
Thank you, Dr. Whitehead!
Larry, we really appreciate your kind words! I am continually impressed by the passion driving the countless members -- whether working in any one of our volunteer groups, or independently -- to produce practical, clear guidance to benefit those that we serve - the workers.By Lawrence Sloan on July 21, 2020 3:43pm
To Larry and all at hq, and ALL THE VOLUNTEERS, kudos, honors, thanks! The back to work documents are great, have distributed the link to occ docs here, and those on our faculty complement them highly. And the virtual AIHce is going to be one of those memorable events for all who were ‘there’. A real piece of work!By Lawrence Whitehead on July 21, 2020 2:27pm