AIHA Ambassador to France Dr. Thomas Fuller is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) who has more than 34 years of experience in a variety of industries, including nuclear power, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and academia. Fuller has twice chaired AIHA’s Nonionizing Radiation Committee, and is part of the Healthcare Working Group and the Safety Committee. Now in his seventh year as associate professor and director of the safety program at Illinois State University, Fuller spends his summers outside of Paris where he meets with occupational health and safety professionals to help build AIHA’s knowledge of the profession in France. The Synergist: What are your duties as AIHA’s ambassador to France? Thomas Fuller: As an AIHA ambassador, I act as a liaison with safety professionals in France and a resource for AIHA members who might want information on working there. I’ve been working on building a network of contacts over there, and I’ve met some of those people at the International Affairs Committee meetings at AIHce. While I’m in France, I meet with my contacts and talk about how the occupational health and safety programs and systems work in France. For example, last summer I was able to tour the Sanofi Pharmaceutical headquarters outside Paris and interview several employees of the environmental health and safety department about their work and the structure of the company. Recently I’ve been working on a glossary of occupational health and safety terms in French to help developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia where French is the working language. France is fairly sophisticated, and this glossary could help developing countries that don’t have a lot of occupational health and safety expertise or information. I’m also working on an informational document that will include short descriptions of all the French agencies and organizations associated with occupational health and safety for the AIHA website. TS: How is the importance of occupational health and safety perceived in France versus the U.S.? TF: Our whole approach with industrial hygiene is to anticipate and recognize hazards in the workplace, measure them, and then take controls to make sure that workers are safe and healthy. In France the approach is a bit more reactive than proactive. The approach has been for injured or sick workers to seek and receive medical attention, and then the job site is evaluated to reduce the hazards. It’s taking a long time in France to switch around and be more proactive to protect workers before they get sick or injured. Occupational health and safety in France has been oriented around occupational physicians, so medical doctors and occupational physicians are the ones who’ve “run” OHS. And it’s stuck with them even to the present; some of France’s workers’ compensation organizations are still top-heavy with medical physicians, and that hierarchy also appears elsewhere. For example, France’s federal requirements make it the responsibility of employers to have an occupational health and safety committee at every workplace. The committee has to be made up of a variety of people: first there’s the occupational health physician, then the occupational health nurse, then the occupational health trainer and data keeper, and then they might have someone with expertise in occupational health and safety like an industrial hygienist. That structure’s a challenge because we’re not number one—we’re more like number five on that committee.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a new Synergist series called “Pole to Pole.” Exclusive to the digital magazine, this series will focus on how industrial and occupational hygiene is practiced around the world. Each month, the digital Synergist will feature an edited Q&A based on an interview with an industrial hygienist about how the IH/OH profession differs from country to country.
|Pole to Pole: France |
An Interview with AIHA Ambassador Tom Fuller
"In France, federal and regional regulations are even more tied into insurance and workers’ compensation than in the U.S."
-Tom Fuller
TS: What are the major differences in occupational health and safety regulations between France and the U.S.? TF: In the U.S., we’re taught that it’s all OSHA: OSHA this, OSHA that. But we’ve also learned through insurance and risk assessment that health and safety is related to productivity and sustainability: if we can be safer, we’re going to be more profitable and we’re going to have lower direct and indirect costs from accidents. So even though OSHA plays a large role in the U.S., most good companies—especially the large ones—are going to go well beyond OSHA regulations to run their safety programs. In France, federal and regional regulations are even more tied into insurance and workers’ compensation than in the U.S. In some cases, France doesn’t have the same detail of structure that we have in the U.S., but in other instances—even at the company level—they have very specific requirements. A company might require a specific type of risk assessment or the inclusion of certain details in a report, or there might be a specific regulation that describes how to satisfy France’s federal government. Another major difference is that across Europe there’s a very strong program for workplace violence and bullying, which they call “moral harassment.” Moral harassment is illegal, and in France it’s very well documented and the public and the workers take it very seriously. In the U.S., only a handful of states have any regulations about bullying or harassment. TS: What can IHs from the U.S. learn from those practicing in France? TF: Many aspects of occupational health and safety are done similarly in France and the U.S., but there are certain things that each country does better than the other. One example of an area that IHs practicing in the U.S. could learn more about is the EU’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), an incredible program that helps protect workers. Companies have to go through REACH in order to have a product with certain chemicals in it for market in Europe, and American companies are no exception. But it’s an extensive process to go through REACH to prove that a product meets the relevant requirements, so there’s this market in Europe where many American companies pay these REACH consulting firms to do all the paperwork to get their products registered. It’s my impression that most U.S. companies feel that it’s not worth the time to go through the process themselves, even though it could be a good learning experience. TS: What are some major cultural differences that IHs who have never worked in France can expect to find? TF: They frown upon working overtime, and that’s just the way it is in France. It’s been my impression from companies that they don’t even want you to take your laptop home with you. They want you to work your 37- or 40-hour week, and they don’t want you working more. Plus, most people working in France take around two hours for lunch and they don’t tend to work through their break. In my experience, a common frustration our French colleagues have with their American counterparts is that industrial hygienists from the U.S. often assume that the way things are done in the U.S. is better, which is not necessarily the case. American IHs need to understand that, in certain instances, their French colleagues may have corporate requirements or French industry standards they are expected to meet that may not be familiar to someone who’s used to working in the U.S. Overall, my experiences with French professionals have been very pleasant. They are open about their activities and operations, and they are extremely polite and gracious hosts.