In the early 1980s, when Steve Jahn was in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, he had an idea of what his career in industrial hygiene would be like: he would be the one with knowledge of how to protect workers, and management would graciously defer to his judgment.
“When I got out of school, I was looking for a company that was going to call me the expert,” Jahn recalls. “They would say, ‘Jahn, what do you think?’ and I’d give them an answer. I would be the smart guy in the room, and off we’d go.”
That’s not how it works, of course. Jahn still knows something about protecting workers, but upper managers don’t simply accept his recommendations. They’re smart, too, and one of the many things they’re responsible for is the bottom line. And if one of Jahn’s interventions costs thousands of dollars, they want to know why it needs to be done that way. Could it be done differently—more cheaply, but just as effectively? And if it can’t, why not?
Many industrial hygienists are familiar with this scenario. No matter your experience and educational background, establishing your credibility is vital, and persuasion is part of the job. And when a manager asks, “Why are you doing it that way?” it would be very persuasive to reference an official, independently developed explanation of competent industrial hygiene practice.
Why? That’s why.
There are good reasons why such a reference doesn’t exist. The profession is too broad, the roles IHs play too various. Differences between industries and practitioners’ experiences can be significant. A thirty-year veteran CIH and exposure assessment expert like Jahn needs to know different things than a new graduate.
But a series of new AIHA-led projects is intended to fill those gaps. Teams of volunteers working on these bodies of knowledge, or BoKs, are attempting to define what IHs need to know, no matter their industry, specialty, education level, or career stage. A PIECEMEAL APPROACH A body of knowledge comprises the concepts, terms, and activities that make up a professional domain. “Think of it as a complete set of learning objectives,” says Mary Ann Latko, AIHA’s managing director for Scientific and Technical Initiatives, which is supporting the BoK effort.
Once completed, the BoKs will occupy a central position in AIHA. They will be “the starting point from which we will decide what education we need to build, whether it’s PDCs or books or webinars,” Latko says. “Maybe there would be a registry. We’d see if there’s a need for it both from a technical standpoint and from the marketplace.”
Often, a BoK is accompanied by an annotated bibliography of resources mapped to specific skills or areas of knowledge. Common features of BoKs include lists of applicable standards and regulations, rules for practicing the profession, and options for professional development and continuing education.
Building a single body of knowledge for the entirety of the profession would be a Herculean task, so AIHA is focusing on smaller areas of practice. BoKs are currently under development for exposure assessment, respiratory protection program administration, and field use of multigas meters and photo-ionization detectors. Latko compares this piecemeal approach to the way the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) has structured the Certified Industrial Hygienist credential around a series of rubrics, or subject areas. The main difference, Latko says, is that the CIH rubrics concentrate on the highest level of industrial hygiene practice, while the BoKs may address different levels of practitioner skill, what we might call apprentice, journeyman, and master levels. STARTING FROM STRAW The difficulty of the undertaking is not lost on Lisa Greene, who is working with AIHA on a contract basis to help develop the BoKs. “It’s really a big task,” she says, “and the strategy is to take small bites of a large apple.”
A director of Microanalytical Sciences at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Greene has worked with AIHA for many years through RTI’s role as a contractor to the AIHA Proficiency Analytical Testing (PAT) Programs, LLC. RTI is a not-for-profit research organization whose researchers provide training and technical services to governments and businesses in more than 70 countries. For AIHA’s BoKs, RTI has hosted meetings of each project’s core team of volunteers. In addition to facilitating those face-to-face meetings, Greene has led the teams through several virtual exercises where discussion was managed through a collaborative Web-based tool supported by RTI’s Center for Forensic Sciences.
The core teams comprise experts from every corner of the profession, including some whose training, like Greene’s, is outside of traditional industrial hygiene. Some team members are toxicologists; others represent first responders and firefighters. Some are responsible for using equipment or implementing standards. Equipment manufacturers are also represented. And there are, of course, a variety of CIHs: some who are in daily practice, some in management, some in consulting.
This Is How We Do It
Building Bodies of Knowledge in Industrial Hygiene
BY ED RUTKOWSKI
“I anticipate that there will be a number of these [BoKs] that would serve a hygienist who is tapped on the shoulder and told, ‘You know, we’re going to need you to tackle X for us.’”
These diverse groups needed to find some common ground, and they needed a starting point. For this purpose, Greene and Jahn researched the three focus areas and developed “straw-men” BoKs—sample lists of the tasks, skills, and knowledge necessary for IHs at different levels of expertise. In creating the straw men, Jahn drew on extensive experience relevant to all three BoKs: he has formerly served as IH manager responsible for a respiratory protection program that involved all classes of respirators and issued 50,000 per year at its high point, and was responsible for a full suite of field sampling instrumentation supporting 35 IH and technician staff.
“The straw men are out there for the subject matter experts to rip apart and to say, ‘This doesn’t make sense’ and ‘This is not how it would be best presented in this focused area of industrial hygiene,’” Greene explains. She credits the relative anonymity of the virtual meetings for helping spur discussion; some of the least experienced team members have made the most incisive and helpful contributions.
Greene finds that her status as a relative newcomer to IH has helped her in her role as facilitator.
“It’s very good that I am technical,” Greene says. “But it’s also good that I am not an industrial hygienist by education or training or professional practice, because I am able to look at [the BoK] as a novice would look at it, and see whether it makes sense. Because by their very expertise, the subject matter experts—sometimes things are so obvious to them that they might use jargon or acronyms that are not universal, or they might speak from their frame of reference. Maybe they’ve had a long career at a DOE facility, and it doesn’t translate to every other facility. Or they may know the ‘why’ of an action so well that it never occurs to them that you need to include that in the task statement.” FROM A TO BOK Once completed, the BoKs will have many practical applications. First, they will help master-level IHs persuasively answer the “why are you doing it that way” question.
“These bodies of knowledge are a foundation for a hygienist to say, ‘Well, this is how it’s done,’” Jahn says. He notes that AIHA’s status as an independent organization carries weight with employers: “I’m not [the one] saying I’m competent. These external people say I’m competent.”
Entry-level and mid-level hygienists can refer to the BoKs to learn how to get from point A to point B in their careers. Jahn uses exposure assessment as an example of how a BoK can help in professional development. “You might be right out of school, and you may or may not have learned certain things about how to conduct a baseline characterization, write a good report, collect a sample, et cetera. You may have that same trouble at different points in your career,” he says. “I anticipate that there will be a number of these [BoKs] that would serve a hygienist who is tapped on the shoulder and told, ‘You know, we’re going to need you to tackle X for us.’”
Greene notes that changes in work force demographics and the larger economy are causing an increasing number of industrial hygienists to switch roles. An IH who spent most of her career in management may find herself back in daily practice as she nears retirement. Another IH could suddenly find himself performing the tasks of a team member who left the company and hasn’t been replaced. The BoKs can help these professionals identify what they need to know and where they can go to learn it.
To explain the benefits of the BoKs, Greene uses her own company as an example. “We do all types of technical research in the physical sciences and life sciences,” she says. “Our own industrial hygienists are faced with a lot of different exposure scenarios. And they’re dealing with labs that handle radioactive materials, labs that handle pharmaceutical compounds, labs that handle asbestos and other toxic minerals, labs that have radiation-producing equipment. They’re also dealing with people in an office environment.
“Having the bodies of knowledge, especially organized, as they will be, at the focus areas of industrial hygiene practice—I think that is a great tool, because I can’t think of many industrial hygienists who have a more varied day-to-day responsibility than our own occupational health people.”
Managers, too, will be able to use the BoKs to determine which competencies they can expect from their employees at different levels of experience or responsibility, or, when hiring, to develop descriptions for open positions. This is a benefit that AIHA Board member Donna Heidel, the industrial hygiene practice leader with Bureau Veritas, finds especially appealing.
“I need to continually look at the industrial hygienists that we have on our staff, make sure that their supervisors can accurately assess their abilities and skillsets, and then prepare them for activities in the field or even help them establish a development plan,” says Heidel, who is leading AIHA’s exposure assessment BoK. “So [the BoK] will support our talent recruitment. It will also give us a method for evaluating the skills in our existing staff. And it also will also help us say, when our IH staff members are ready for development to that next level, ‘Here are the courses you need to take’ or ‘Here’s the additional knowledge you need to gain,’ ‘Here are the skills that you need to show us competency in for us to be able to say, Yes, you’re ready for that next level.’
“It’s really wonderful because, quite frankly, I have my own little body of knowledge in my own company here, but I’d love to be able to have one that’s developed by the American Industrial Hygiene Association.” ED RUTKOWSKI is editor in chief of The Synergist. He can be reached at (703) 846-0734 or email@example.com.