January 2, 2020 / Mwangi Ndonga

What's the Big Deal About Big Data?

Big Data. Machine learning. Data analytics. Python. Artificial intelligence. R. Internet of Things. Databases. SQL. Data science.

Have you heard these terms before? Do your ears perk up or do you immediately tune out when you hear them? If you had asked me two years ago how these terms relate to industrial hygiene, I would have told you, “Not directly. Surely, data is a part of IH, but the IT stuff needs to be left to the IT professionals.” I’m singing a different song now.

What I’ve realized recently is that other professions are or have been embracing these methodologies and tools. In my own organization, geologists, engineers, data scientists, and others have been using machine learning, or ML, to make better, faster, more informed decisions. Should we be doing the same?

On March 27–28, 2019, we convened a Big Data and Data Analytics Workshop to answer that question. More than 80 environmental health and safety professionals gathered in Denver, Colo., at the workshop, which was hosted by the AIHA Rocky Mountain Local Section and the ASSP Colorado Chapter. The two-day event yielded two action items:

  • Develop a two-hour webinar that provides a basic overview of Big Data and data analytics that can be viewed by EHS professionals and their leadership. This course would lend a voice to professionals who may struggle with convincing their leadership to embrace or support data science-related initiatives.
  • Develop an eight-hour professional development course for the EHS professional that introduces the basic elements of Big Data and data analytics.

Through the support of dedicated peers, the above action items have been completed. The two-hour webinar, “Introduction to Big Data and Data Analytics,” will be hosted by AIHA national on Jan. 23, 2020, from 1 to 3 p.m. ET. The full-day PDC, “PDC 401: Introduction to Big Data and Data Analytics,” will be held at AIHce EXP in Atlanta, Ga., on May 31, 2020.

Finally, AIHA’s leadership has proposed that a Body of Knowledge, or Framework, be developed for Big Data and data analytics. That project was approved by the AIHA Board of Directors. An open call to participate as a team member on this project will go out this month. You can view further details and submit your name before the call goes out by visiting AIHA’s website.

I am excited that our profession is anticipating changes in technology and embracing how new methods can better define risk and better protect our workers. Join me in that effort.

Editor’s note: For more information on how Big Data may change industrial hygiene, read the article “Predictive Purposes,” which was published in the March 2018 issue of The Synergist.

Mwangi Ndonga

Mwangi Ndonga is president of the AIHA Rocky Mountain Section a member of AIHA national.


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