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Reporting on the Successful IOHA 2018

By Gurumurthy Ramachandran

IOHA-2018-general-450px.pngI recently had the privilege of chairing the International Scientific Committee that organized the 11th International Occupational Hygiene Association International Scientific Conference. The conference is a special event held once every two to three years at venues across the globe, drawing an international audience of multidisciplinary professionals with a focus on worker health protection and exposure control. This year, the conference was held Sept. 24–26, in Washington, D.C., with the relevant theme of “Bringing Better Health to Workers Worldwide.” The conference attracted more than 500 attendees from 36 countries.

Over the course of the last year, the ISC had numerous conference calls to review submissions, create sessions, and line up speakers, narrowing over 100 proposals into a tightly-packed schedule that featured: 

  • 11 professional development courses that attracted over 250 attendees 
  • 57 educational sessions, all with an international focus 
  • the 8th Control Banding Workshop

Around 200 speakers from 25 countries were on hand to present a diverse selection of sessions. 

Leppink-Nancy-450px.pngIOHA 2018 opened with a rousing call to action to end child labor across the globe by our plenary speaker, Nancy Leppink, who is the Chief of the Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the International Labour Organization. She expressed a commitment on behalf of the ILO to engage more substantively with occupational health professionals and IOHA in particular. Her unique position allowed her to talk about worker health issues in a global economy dominated by large multinational corporations with access to labor in less developed countries, the impacts of such dependencies on worker well-being and rights, influences in the context of global supply chains that can drive change in occupational safety and health, and the needs for occupational health infrastructure in developing countries to address these new challenges. 

The International Scientific Committee attempted to strike a balance between purely technical presentations and applications of occupational hygiene to addressing persistent problems of work around the globe. The platform sessions covered topics as varied as exposures of children to high levels of silica in the brick kilns of Nepal, stone crushing in Tanzania and Mozambique, and exposures of child workers to lead and mercury while mining for gold. More than two billion workers lack basic access to occupational safety, health, and hygiene professionals, and the topics above represent persistent problems with well-known solutions that just need to be implemented. 

At the other end of the spectrum, at the cutting edge of occupational hygiene, there were sessions on exposure modeling, the use of robots for exposure characterization, new sampling techniques, hazard characterization, and sophisticated epidemiological studies. We heard about managing projects in a country with an Ebola outbreak, game-planning emergencies, and providing relief and assistance after a hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico. These are just a few examples from the sessions I happened to attend. 

We heard about the work of volunteer groups such as Workplace Health Without Borders and the Occupational Hygiene Training Association to bring OH expertise and training throughout the globe free of charge. The IOHA Collaboration Award recognized global collaboration between Workplace Health Without Borders, the Global Fairness Initiative, and Kathmandu University to recognize, evaluate, and control workplace hazards in brick kilns throughout the world. We heard the hard-earned wisdom of Roger Alesbury, MSc, Dip OH, CFFOH, recipient of the IOHA Lifetime Achievement Award, who noted that the key to creating lasting, positive change is persistence in the face of obstacles. 

I found it personally rewarding to work with scientific colleagues from across the world in putting together this conference. The ISC included distinguished colleagues from Switzerland, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the U.S. and Canada. What I also treasure are the quieter moments, coffees, and dinners with thoughtful scientists, top-of-the-line professionals, and committed activists, and hearing their struggles and successes while working to bring change around the globe. 


Ramachandran-Gurumurthy-120px.pngGurumurthy Ramachandran, PhD, CIH, FAIHA, is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.

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