KAY BECHTOLD is assistant editor of The Synergist. She can be reached at or (703) 846-0737.
Explaining “Acceptable” Risk AIHA Fellow Seeks to Bolster Understanding of Risk Characterization, Management BY KAY BECHTOLD, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE SYNERGIST
Editor’s note: The individuals featured in this series were selected from responses to a survey that AIHA conducted in 2014. For background, see "The IH Hero Gap" in the January 2015 issue.
He hikes technical trails. He mountain bikes. He’s backpacked extensively. He skis—both downhill and cross country. He feels in control, and he has fun. And yes, risk characterization and risk management expert Fred Boelter knows that a number of people would consider some or all of his outdoor adventures to be risky. But that’s how it works: people tend to take part in more risky activities personally than they are engaged in at the workplace. “I’m keenly aware that my personal activities are considerably riskier than much of the occupational work that I advise people on,” says Boelter, a consultant with more than 40 years’ experience. Boelter also enjoys less risky time spent with his wife, children, and grandchildren in Boise, Idaho, where he’s lived for two and a half years. A Chicago transplant, Boelter is thrilled to have the vast outdoors of Boise at his doorstep, which makes his favorite activities much more accessible. WIDE-RANGING WORK When he’s not out on the trails, Boelter works as a principal consultant at a new firm called RHP Risk Management Inc., where he provides clients with support in defining, analyzing, characterizing, assessing, and managing unacceptable risks—both occupational and non-occupational—to human health and the environment. As is the case for many consultants, Boelter’s work is broad. Clients hire him for wide-ranging reasons: they may have a question about compliance, they may want to do a root-cause analysis on a system failure, or they might face challenges meeting regulatory obligations in other countries. Throughout his career, Boelter has worked on projects in approximately two dozen other countries. “My clients range from risk tolerant to risk averse, but fundamentally they want to be doing the right thing,” Boelter says. “They want to be compliant, they want to treat their employees well, they want to produce a product, and they want to be able to stay in business.”
At the same time, Boelter has learned that clients don’t necessarily care about the industrial hygiene profession itself. It’s not that people don’t appreciate what industrial hygienists do, Boelter explains; it’s more that they don’t have a “true interest” in the scientific basis of IHs’ work and their professional judgment. “Professionally, we have a great need to define ourselves in terms that are meaningful to our clients, and I think often we don’t,” he says. “Often we define ourselves in ways that our clients perceive us as being a cost center, and I think that’s where there is a potential disconnect for our profession.”