Synergist Series Shows Need for IH Expertise Around the World
In honor of its inaugural international-themed issue, The Synergist looks back at the “Pole to Pole” series, which featured interviews with industrial and occupational hygienists working abroad. Each of the series’ ten installments examined the occupational and environmental health and safety challenges facing workers and the public in different regions. The series, which was exclusive to the digital Synergist, also shared IH experts’ insights on the state of the profession in different countries, ongoing IH- and safety-related efforts in various regions, and the development of the practice of industrial hygiene internationally. Following are excerpts from Synergist interviews featured in the “Pole to Pole” series:
“Our whole approach with industrial hygiene [in the U.S.] is to anticipate and recognize hazards in the workplace, measure them, and then [implement] 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.” —Tom Fuller, France, March 2016 “Many big companies outsource lots of jobs to local companies and use their technology because it makes more sense to outsource to local people. It gives them employment, and it helps companies reduce costs. On the other hand, this has caused what I think is the biggest industrial hygiene problem in the Asian countries: a lot of the tasks at these multinational companies are hazardous. For example, if a U.S. or a British company wants to do electroplating, which requires a lot of IH controls, they don’t want to do it themselves. It’s not important for their final product, so they give it to a local supply shop. That local supply shop has never heard the words ‘industrial hygiene.’” —Jas Singh, Malaysia, April 2016 “In the brick kilns, as one can imagine, there is a lot of dust. It is an industry that employs primarily migrant workers, who are workers of the lower caste, called dalit. They are people who come from remote parts of Nepal or India, and in many cases they bring their families. There are certain indications that at least some of the family members, including children, end up doing some of the work. We have some evidence that children as young as 12 are carrying these bricks and are exposed to the dust.” —Bill Carter, Nepal, May 2016  “The garment industry is well known because of the crisis caused by Rana Plaza, but actually in Bangladesh, garment is a better job than the alternatives, assuming that you don’t burn to death on the job or your building doesn’t collapse on you. The alternatives to garment in Bangladesh are the tanneries, where you have outrageously dangerous conditions—the life expectancy of tannery workers is about 42 years. You have brick kiln operations, which involve a lot of child labor. You have shipbreaking operations, which involve literally dismantling huge ocean-going vessels by hand, with tremendous exposures to asbestos and lead, and electrical and fall protection issues. Construction is another very dangerous occupation in Bangladesh, as it is in other countries in the developing world.” —Garrett Brown, Bangladesh, August 2016 “Industrial hygiene appears to be in its infancy in Haiti. I didn’t meet any industrial hygienists [when I was volunteering there], but I did meet some folks at the U.S. Embassy who were aware of environmental health and safety concerns. There’s a large need for industrial hygiene education, training, and awareness for the various industries in Haiti—particularly in the medical industry.”  — Mike Cooper, Haiti, September 2016 “Over 94 percent of India’s working population is part of the unorganized sector where EHS resources are limited and potential health risk is high. Most hazardous industries include industries with potential for exposures to silica, asbestos, lead, and chemicals, to name a few. Then there are industries such as pharmaceutical manufacturing where there are unique types of risks specific to the materials being handled and the specialty processing needed to manage drug manufacturing.”  —Maharshi Mehta, India, November 2016 “[Occupational health] problems [in China] are quite different from the major concerns here in the United States. China probably has the largest work force of anywhere in the world, especially in certain sectors like manufacturing, construction, and mining, and the demands for those sectors are pretty high in China. There are a lot of infrastructure construction activities going on in China right now as well as manufacturing—most crucially the manufacturing of chemicals and other hazardous materials. Incidentally, those three sectors rank the highest in terms of occupational fatality and occupational disease rates.”  —Jun Wang, China, December 2016 “Agent Orange itself is not all that harmful to humans, but in its manufacture, another chemical, dioxin, is formed. The herbicides manufactured by the chemical company contain very low levels of dioxin, but because dioxin is extremely toxic and they were handling literally millions of gallons of Agent Orange [during the Vietnam War], dioxin is the contaminant of concern at the airport [in Da Nang, Vietnam]. … All of the sampling, analysis, testing, and personnel protection focuses on dioxin. The objective of the project is to excavate all the soil that’s contaminated with dioxin and then treat it to remove the dioxin.”  —Michael Ridosh, Vietnam, April 2017 “Vietnam’s economy is supported by small and medium-sized businesses. With many people working out of their homes—doing manufacturing, running restaurants, everything—they don’t have available resources to devote to safety and health or protective equipment. It will take a long time to help spread the safe work practices to the people of Vietnam.”  —Tuan Nguyen, Vietnam, Revisited, June/July 2017 “One thing we’re dedicated to addressing [in the developing world] is the lack of industrial hygiene knowledge and expertise, as well as resources for controls. It’s been a big eye-opener for us to try to go to places and think that we can apply the kind of control measures we’ve been taught to apply here, like local exhaust ventilation and respirators, which are very impractical in these situations. … We’ve learned that there are many barriers to instituting the kinds of controls that we have been taught, and it calls for a lot of imagination and creativity to develop new solutions.”  —Marianne Levitsky, Workplace Health Without Borders, October 2017 Visit the “Pole to Pole” page on AIHA's website for a full list of installments in the series. In anticipation of IOHA 2018, the international scientific conference being held later this month in Washington, D.C., the Synergist team wants to know: which international IH/OH issues do you consider to be the most pressing today? Please email your thoughts to The Synergist.    KAY BECHTOLD is senior editor of The Synergist. She can be reached via email.