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Naming the Profession
The December 2016 issue of The Synergist had a small piece on what we should call ourselves [see the sidebar] that concluded with the question, “Do you think the profession should rebrand?” Having been in the profession for 55 years and still kicking, my unequivocal answer to that question is yes! The term “industrial” is not at all descriptive of our customer base. It fails to include the growing service sector, government, academia, military, etc. “Occupational” comes much closer.
Although the term “hygiene” is, according to the dictionary and Greek mythology, an accurate descriptor, it falls woefully short on many fronts, not the least of which is it engenders a negative connotation when associated with either “industrial” or “occupational.” We need to rebrand to better define and communicate what we do and who we serve; to improve our brand recognition and brand identity—that is, more appropriately reflect the critical and important work we do; and to be more attractive to the best and the brightest students.
To this day, I am not sure my grown children or my growing grandchildren actually have the foggiest idea what “industrial hygiene” is. I do not use the term “industrial hygiene”; instead I use “occupational health,” and they know what that is. That is all that really needs to be said about why we need to rebrand our wonderful profession.
Rick Fulwiler
I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the discussion as I enjoyed the recent Synergist article on the rebranding question. A brief qualifier and disclosure: I am a forty-two-year veteran of the profession, a CIH and CSP, and an AIHA Fellow. I have a wide range of employment experience as a NIOSH investigator and in several industries, including steel mill, shipyard, aerospace, academia, private consulting, and currently gas and electric utility.
I don’t think the term “hygiene” is up for discussion as it remains the one singular word in the universe that best describes what we do to maintain health and prevent the spread of disease. The rest of the world may think it is outdated, quaint, and just “20th Century,” but it is still the best word.
As for the term “industrial”: unquestionably the word is outdated and needs to be replaced. Why? I have personally been “down-sized, right-sized, and capsized” from American industry, and I feel that “industrial” has abandoned me and gone offshore. Face it: we are a nation of “occupations” and not a nation of “industrials.”
I have had to rebrand myself several times over my career as an “industrial hygienist” to the point that I prefer to be called a “safety and health advisor” or—if I had my true secret wish—“hygiene artist.” Get with it and rebrand the profession so the next generation will get beyond the word fence of “industrial.” Yes, I respect the past, from which I have received my training and life’s work, but I must also regard the future for those to whom our profession is bequeathed. Move on to “occupational hygiene”!
Terry D. Thedell, PhD, CIH, CSP, FAIHA

The term that rings most true for me is “environmental hygienist.” The CDC, USGBC, NIOSH, and other credible organizations use “indoor environmental quality” to refer to the built environment’s relationship to the health and wellbeing of its occupants. Inside the built environment, IEQ is concerned with air quality, exposure limits, ventilation, lighting, sound, ergonomics, and other factors. I don’t think it’s a big stretch that IEQ could encompass safety as well. “Environmental hygienist” is not self-limiting in that it does not exclusively refer to indoor work. The environment, as defined only by the parameters we set, is an all-encompassing term that may very well allow us to practice in all areas of traditional industrial hygiene as well as new and expanding areas in the discipline.
Christine Robinson, Student Member
“Is industrial hygiene a dying profession?” a key business leader recently asked me. Before I could recover and answer, he clarified, “What I mean is, are you reproducing yourselves?”
Ah, that’s a different question. He had just hired a CIH after recruiting nationwide for more than a year. He’s not the only one I’ve talked with who has this problem. Interestingly, I had just reconnected with Don. Don is a much better IH than me, but he failed the CIH exam multiple times. Had he failed his last test, he would not be a CIH because he doesn’t have the “right” educational background.
Don told me of at least one person who left the profession because they did not pass the CIH exam. I had a highly qualified IH (someone with the right educational background) who barely failed the exam. She never retook the exam, ended up working for an industry that does not require a CIH, and drifted from the profession.
Jared is an extremely competent OEHS professional. I have connected with him and he is working on his master’s degree in occupational health and safety. He recently said, “When I get my PhD in 2019, I still won’t qualify to take the CIH exam.” That’s OK, Jared, you probably couldn’t pass anyway. By the way, if I were joining the profession today, I would not qualify to take the exam. Anyway, I am not sure if I could pass the current exam.
To summarize, we have high-level business leaders who know what a CIH is but can’t find one. We have qualified IHs who can’t pass the CIH exam. We have highly competent and motivated OEHS professionals who know what IH is and want to become one but are not qualified to take the test. We can change our name to anything we want. But will that solve the slow death of the IH profession?
Paul W. Tranchell, CIH, CSP AIHA CEO Larry Sloan addressed issues related to the “industrial hygiene” name in a post to the SynergistNOW blog in November. An edited version of that post appears below. Fundamentally, I believe the term “industrial hygiene” does not resonate anymore, which leads me to think it is time for the profession to explore doing a comprehensive PR campaign regardless of what we call ourselves.
That said, any discussion about whether to call ourselves something different needs to consider not only the perspectives of AIHA members but those of our allied partners—ABIH (which runs the CIH credential) and ACGIH. We also need to get out of our comfort zone and talk to people who are “not us.” This means engaging with audiences that know little to nothing about who we are or what we do.
And that includes students of all ages, from upper elementary school through high school (perhaps leveraging new, innovative programs like Safety Matters, and ensuring that college-age students who are deliberating on their majors have a clear understanding of what it means to dedicate themselves to protecting worker health.
When you think about the critical role industrial hygienists play in “first response” actions to a terrorist incident or natural disaster, we have a powerful story to tell. Let’s capitalize on this.
If we agree on the shift in nomenclature, we will then need to deploy the resources of a PR firm skilled in crafting a clear and thought-out campaign that can address the multi-faceted complexities of the profession. To this end, AIHA is forming a volunteer Rebranding Task Team, led by me and comprising practitioners young and experienced alike. Ideally we would like to include “outsiders” as well.
The acronym “AIHA” and the “CIH” designation are positively regarded around the world. I’m confident we can clarify our message without literally renaming the association (which, I understand, has been considered multiple times in the past). I feel the time is ripe to take a more holistic look at what our profession “is” so we can help generate and sustain a steady pipeline of aspiring practitioners for generations to come.
If you’re interested in playing a role in this exciting initiative, please drop me a line. We’re looking for a few innovative thinkers who are invested in shaping the public’s perception of the IH profession for the betterment of all of us.
Larry Sloan, AIHA CEO