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Outreach and the Future of IH
I read “How to Harness IH Energy” in the June/July digital Synergist [an article about AIHA Past President Elizabeth Pullen and efforts to increase IH outreach]. As a long-time safety professional and CIH, I wanted to comment. I’ve been concerned about our field for some time. It continues to lack broad value recognition among industry decision-makers and the work force alike. In my opinion, it’s gained only modestly in this regard since I started in the field more than 25 years ago. I’ve attended our professional conferences since the late ’80s and watched the average age of participants increase over the years, which indicates that not enough young professionals are entering the field. Either this forecasts an eventual dearth of IH talent and a large future demand for professional IH services, or it’s an indication of our growing irrelevance in the modern technical and industrial workplace. Obviously, my hope is the former.
Inspiring young people into career service in the IH profession should be the preeminent objective for organizations like AIHA and ABIH.
Our profession seems to be a bit lopsided in its scientific objectivity. Our formal efforts tend to side consistently with any sponsored push for lower exposure standards or more stringent requirements, regardless of the often vague, inclusive, or downright poor quality of the underlying science. I think this tendency undermines our overall credibility. Overprotection brings a high cost to bear on industry competitiveness and worker job satisfaction alike (not to mention the tendency to automate in order to simply remove workers and the requirements that come with them from the equation). Perhaps our field needs to become more literate in the areas of toxicology and epidemiology. I believe that inspiring young people who enjoy a good mix of science, rewarding hands-on technical work, and protecting people’s health and well-being into career service in the IH profession should be the preeminent objective for organizations like AIHA and ABIH. If I can be of assistance in supporting such an effort, please let me know. Douglas N. Dunbar, CIH, CSP Elizabeth Pullen responds: Thank you for your letter. You bring up many important points, including our changing demographics, the future demand for our services, and our technical decision-making ability. The landscape has changed over the last several decades, and those of us who started in the ’80s were fortunate to ride the tidal wave of demand coming from the OSHA standards and growing awareness of worker health. The changing business climate has likely affected most of us in industrial hygiene, and the future work of IH will look different. My guess is that professionals will need to be proficient in safety, industrial hygiene, and environmental, unless they choose to be a specialist. Our profession has contributed significantly to workers’ health and safety, and I see evidence of that in the workplaces in my company. However, there are still many health and safety issues to be addressed in our country and abroad. “Why” someone would be interested in industrial hygiene is largely the same today as when I started, even though “how” a young person may practice IH in the future may be quite different. I believe that we can inspire young people to get the education and experience they need to continue improving worker health and safety. I appreciate your offer to help reach out to young people. We literally need everyone in the profession to be reaching out in some way to help educate younger people on the scientific and technical nature of our profession, along with the ability to positively impact people’s health. I hope that everyone will contact their AIHA local section or volunteer group to find ways to get involved. We are actively developing and looking for materials that can be used to share our profession, including videos, PowerPoint presentations, and hands-on activities. We don’t need to worry about “doing it right”; we just need to get out into the schools and community and share what we do and why we do it. Elizabeth Pullen, CIH