AIHA Ambassador to India Maharshi Mehta, CIH, CSP, began his career 40 years ago as a chemist in a manufacturing plant earning a salary of about one dollar per day. He quickly worked his way up to a supervisory role and later jumped at the chance to become a safety officer at the plant. After completing his formal education in safety in India, he spent a few years working in the Middle East, saving money and learning English. From there, he moved to the U.S., where he earned his master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati. He joined the New Jersey Department of Health in 1986, and soon obtained his CIH and CSP. Mehta also worked for a chemical corporation before resigning to start his own consulting company, International Safety Systems, Inc., headquartered in New York. The company consults in industrial hygiene and safety out of offices located in the U.S., India, and China, covering around 500 workplaces in approximately 30 different countries. After starting his own consulting business, Mehta returned to India to start the country’s first master’s program in industrial hygiene. Mehta, a member of AIHA’s International Affairs Committee, has twice received the AIHA President’s Award for his efforts to promote the profession globally, especially in India and China. The Synergist: How did you come to start the first industrial hygiene master’s program in India?
Maharshi Mehta:Around 1999–2000, the industrial hygiene profession was not developed. The need was significant then—and also now—but resources were limited, so I decided to move to India with my family, because that’s the only way to start a program like this. Sitting here in the U.S., it was not feasible. I went to several colleges and universities in India, and one university, Sardar Patel University, agreed to provide all support for the program. Next, I went to the faculty at the University of Cincinnati, my alma mater, and we ultimately signed an MOU for Cincinnati to provide the course curriculum, which we modified for the Indian university. For two years, I stayed at the college in India. At first, the university said, “We have limited financial resources.” I said, “I don’t need money. What I need is freedom—freedom to develop the program.” The University of Cincinnati faculty visited India every year, and there was remarkable cooperation between AIHA members and several institutions and organizations in India. You wouldn’t believe the truckload of books donated from U.S., European, and Australian industrial hygiene professionals for the Master's program. Think about the cost of education in the United States. A master’s program here may cost $20,000 to $50,000. In India at that time, the fee was about $500 for the whole year, so buying books that cost $100 each would be a challenge. However, it was incredible what we could accomplish; we could get all the books for free, and we could get all the equipment donated from companies. If I had to choose the most satisfying accomplishment in my lifetime, the master's program we started is it. It’s into its 20th year now, and in a country where there were no hygienists, there are now several CIHs. We now have more than 500 graduates from the master’s program. TS: How would you describe the state of the industrial hygiene profession in India? MM: The industrial hygiene profession is still at the inception stage. For a working population of more than 400 million, we have less than 500 industrial hygienists. For those workers, we still have very few industrial hygienists in India. The need is significant, but the industrial hygiene foundation has been laid. The momentum is there, and it’s going to build up over time and continue to grow. The Central Industrial Hygiene Association (CIHA) has formed in India, and the association has already conducted two industrial hygiene conferences. We need at least another 5,000 to 10,000 occupational hygienists to support India, so we will have to accelerate our efforts to make sure that we sustain the momentum over the coming years.
Editor's note: This article is part of a Synergist series called “Pole to Pole.” Exclusive to the digital magazine, this series focuses on the challenges of practicing industrial and occupational hygiene around the world. Each month, the digital Synergist features an edited Q&A based on an interview with an industrial hygienist about how the IH/OH profession differs from country to country. The
previous installmentof “Pole to Pole” features AIHA member Mike Cooper, who discussed IH in Haiti. This month, the series focuses on India.
Pole to Pole:
An Interview with Maharshi Mehta
"We need at least another 5,000 to 10,000 occupational hygienists to support India, so we will have to accelerate our efforts to make sure that we sustain the momentum over the coming years." -Maharshi Mehta
TS: What are some cultural differences that IHs who have never worked in India can expect to find? MM:
TS: What are occupational safety and health regulations like in India? MM: There are some basic requirements related to occupational hygiene, but they’re not as detailed as what you’ll find in the U.S., in Europe, or in Malaysia, for example, where specific requirements are set on how to conduct health risk assessment and other qualifications have been laid down. India’s central government, or federal government, has the Factories Act, which was first promulgated in 1948 and went through several amendments. At state level, the Factories Act works as a framework, and the state rules provide more specifications. For example, there are provisions for exposure limits, which are called "permissible limits of exposure" in India. Exposure limits have been identified for noise, and there are a few requirements related to ventilation, temperature, and humidity, and broader requirements in terms of protecting people from dust and other harmful agents. TS: What would you say are the most hazardous industries in India? MM: Definitely the unorganized sectors. Over 94 percent of India's working population is part of the unorganized sector where EHS resources are limited and potential health risk is high. Most hazardous industries include industries with potential for exposures to silica, asbestos, lead, and chemicals, to name a few. Then there are industries such as pharmaceutical manufacturing where there are unique types of risks specific to the materials being handled and the specialty processing needed to manage drug manufacturing. Multinational corporations and local pro-active industries have been improving EHS culture and working towards reducing potential health risk. An organization called The Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative is made up of members from 21 leading pharmaceutical companies. They are pioneering efforts to promote continuous improvement in the areas of labor, ethics, industrial hygiene, safety, process safety, and environmental awareness in their supply chains. This group sponsors capability training and advocates for a shared audit process across the pharma supply chain. The
Developing World Outreach Initiative(DWOI) organization out of San Francisco has been strengthening industrial hygiene resources in emerging economies by providing technical resources, limited funding and publications. These are unique models that can be applied to develop the competency and provide support in terms of addressing the issues related to occupational exposures.
Cultural differences are always going to be there. People are people, whether they are working here or they are working in India. There are two cultural differences with potential for occupational health impact. First, in India an accident is considered an act of God, and hence you will find small temples at some of the industries. Employees worship for their health and wellbeing and seem to focus less on safe work practices. Second, from childhood we have been taking risks—for example, riding on a motorcycle without a safety helmet with a pillion rider and kid sitting in front of the motorbike. Inculcating safety culture would require much more effort with these cultural differences. However, compared to what India was 20 years ago, EHS efforts and awareness are growing significantly. For example, in the case of motorcycle riders, in several Indian cities the local law requires wearing a helmet. Delhi now boasts of one of the world's largest fleets of vehicles fueled with compressed natural gas (CNG).
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The Developing World Outreach Initiative is an effort coordinated by AIHA Local Sections that provides resources in industrial hygiene to workplace health and safety professionals in developing countries. More information about DWOI is available from theThe Synergist
websiteof the AIHA Northern California Local Section and an
articlein the June/July 2012 issue of
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