Revisiting the “Essential” Work of OHS Professionals
In April, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) updated its “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” advisory list to incorporate occupational health and safety workers. AIHA, which had recommended this change, distributed a media alert on April 21 applauding CISA’s action.
Most of us would readily agree that industrial hygienists and OHS professionals perform essential work, especially during a pandemic. We are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response due to our leadership in workplace respiratory protection programs, fit testing, personal protective equipment, protocols for employee screening, cleaning and disinfection of facilities, assisting healthcare organizations, and many other tasks. CISA was correct in recognizing that our skills are a key component of the solution during this time.
However, we need to temper our enthusiasm for this designation by exercising good professional judgment about the circumstances under which we should perform our essential work. Just because we’re “essential” does not mean, for example, that an IH in an area where COVID-19 transmission is rampant should follow through on a routine workplace survey that requires plane travel to a minimally affected region. Doing so would take the meaning of “essential” to a logical extreme and put other individuals and communities at risk.
While OHS professionals are essential, not all work is essential.