Jas Singh, PhD, CIH, is CEO of global consulting in occupational health and safety at JAS International, LLC. Based in Kamuela, Hawaii, Singh has provided IH/OH and EHS risk management training to large and small companies for the past 30 years. Previously he worked as senior environment, health and safety consultant for Golder Associates, a company that provides consulting, design, and construction services in earth, environment, and related areas of energy. Singh served as president of the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene in 2009, as a director on the AIHA Board from 1996 to 1999, and as a director on the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) Board from 1987 to 1993. In 2005, he received both AIHA’s Distinguished Service Award and the Academy’s Henry F. Smyth Jr. Award. And in 2015, ABIH presented him with a lifetime achievement award. Aside from the U.S., Singh has done most of his industrial hygiene work in Malaysia, where he was part of the movement to form the Malaysian Industrial Hygiene Association (MIHA) in the late ’90s and early 2000s. He’s also worked on IH projects in China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and Thailand. Singh still has ties in Malaysia, where he continues to work as an advisor for an oil company’s industrial hygiene programs. The Synergist: How did you first end up working in Malaysia?
Jas Singh:In 1997, I was working with Clayton Environmental, one of the oldest hygiene companies in the U.S. at the time. From there I was hired by Liberty Mutual through Zack Mansdorf, a former president of AIHA. He’d been hired by Liberty to set up world-class industrial hygiene programs for Liberty’s operations around the world. Zack called and asked me to join Liberty and run this small risk management company in Malaysia. TS: How did the Malaysian Industrial Hygiene Association (MIHA) come about? JS: When I got to Malaysia, I started making contacts with some Malaysian companies and building the industrial hygiene group at the risk management company where I worked. Industrial hygiene was not really known in Malaysia when I was first working there, but I would get together with my colleagues and contacts, and one day somebody said, “This is a good profession, and we should have an association.” So I met with about seven other people in my little office in Kuala Lumpur. The group wasn’t sure how to form an industrial hygiene organization, so I suggested they follow the AIHA bylaws, and essentially they did just that. The Malaysian Industrial Hygiene Association has an incredible story; in just a few years, they went from having nothing about industrial hygiene in Malaysia to having a properly formed association. And along the way, they’ve put on many courses and events, including organizing a successful International Occupational Hygiene Association Conference in 2012 and co-hosting the AIHA/MIHA Asia Pacific OH Conference and Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in 2014.
Editor's note: This article is the second in a new Synergist series called “Pole to Pole.” Exclusive to the digital magazine, this series focuses on how industrial and occupational hygiene is practiced around the world. Each month, the digital Synergist will feature an edited Q&A based on an interview with an industrial hygienist about how the IH/OH profession differs from country to country. The
first installmentof “Pole to Pole” features AIHA member Tom Fuller, who discussed IH in France. This month, the series focuses on Malaysia.
Pole to Pole:
An Interview with Jas Singh
"One backbone of the Malaysian program is that they require a risk assessment. That’s the difference: their start is risk assessment before anything else."
TS: How is the practice of IH similar and different in Malaysia versus other parts of the world? JS: Right from the beginning, one difference has been that Malaysia and many other countries in the region borrow certain things from Europe. One aspect of that is they believe a lot more in risk assessment, like we have in the safety profession: job safety analysis, calculating the probability of something going wrong, and identifying the consequences. And that’s very different from the U.S. model, which has been very prescriptive because of OSHA. We go straight to sampling, monitoring, and those kinds of things. One backbone of the Malaysian program is that they require a risk assessment, or what they call a health risk assessment. That’s the difference: their start is risk assessment before anything else, and that’s not the model we’re used to, even though many people are doing risk assessments in the U.S. TS: How do IH programs in Malaysia compare to those in other countries in the region? JS: If you look at the region as Asia and the Middle East, I think Malaysia is ahead of other countries. On one hand, India has a much larger reservoir of people who you can say are occupational health experts, but Malaysia is ahead in terms of practicing industrial hygienists. Singapore has a fairly well developed program, but being a pretty small island there are not as many people practicing day-to-day industrial hygiene. The legislation in other countries in the region isn’t as strong as Malaysia’s, and they don’t have enforcement like Malaysia. Malaysian industrial hygiene programs are basically patterned after what we have under OSHA in the U.S. Maybe they don’t have the same extent of enforcement as OSHA, but they have a miniature copy of the Western programs, especially those in the U.S. I don’t know if it was the formation of MIHA that prompted it, but in 2000 the Malaysian government adopted a very comprehensive set of threshold limit values (TLVs). It’s interesting that they didn’t really try to formulate their own exposure limits like many other countries. They thought, “Well, ACGIH has all of those, so why not adopt their TLVs?” They made changes to maybe 10 percent of the values. That means that Malaysian regulations, especially in terms of exposure limits and risk assessment, are way ahead of other countries like China and especially India, where they still have TLVs or exposure limits that were enacted 70 or 80 years ago. TS: What would you say are the major challenges related to IH in Malaysia and surrounding countries? JS: Whatever industrial hygiene you find in Asian countries has largely been brought by multinational companies that are doing business there. Many times, large companies who have facilities in places like India or China want to take care of the practice of industrial hygiene wherever they do business. But their influence has not all been positive; it has caused a phenomenon called global supply chain and outsourcing. Many big companies outsource lots of jobs to local companies and use their technology because it makes more sense to outsource to local people. It gives them employment, and it helps companies reduce costs. On the other hand, this has caused what I think is the biggest industrial hygiene problem in the Asian countries: a lot of the tasks at these multinational companies are hazardous. For example, if a U.S. or a British company wants to do electroplating, which requires a lot of IH controls, they don’t want to do it themselves. It’s not important for their final product, so they give it to a local supply shop. That local supply shop has never heard the words “industrial hygiene.” There is an enormous need for industrial hygiene in China, India, and some of the other countries because a lot of hazardous operations are being carried out by local companies who still don’t know about industrial hygiene. I would say the need for IH in this region is much greater right now than it was in the U.S. when I started practicing 45 years ago. Ultimately I think society has to realize that if we want these products, we have to pay for worker health and safety no matter where those workers are.
TS: How has IH in Malaysia changed over the years you’ve been working there?
JS:In Malaysia and the surrounding region, industrial hygiene awareness is high and the practice of industrial hygiene is growing. At the last training course I presented in Malaysia two years ago, more than half the students in attendance came from eleven other countries, and that was exciting. Now my only concern is, what are they doing? In Asia especially, industrial hygiene practice is moving more toward audits, assessments, and sampling. That’s part of industrial hygiene, but that’s not really “our” industrial hygiene. If you look at how ABIH defines it, industrial hygiene is supposed to make the workplace better. I tell everybody who will listen that you can do audits, assessments, and sophisticated sampling until the cows come home, but if you don’t control the exposures, they’ll still be there. Overall, I think industrial hygiene has a pretty positive outlook in the region, but we are losing the control components, which I don’t think should be relegated to others outside the industrial hygiene profession.
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