OHTA’s Fight Against Occupational Illness and Disease
BY CHRIS LASZCZ-DAVIS AND STEVEN VERPAELE
Changing the World, One Course at a Time
Editor’s note: The authors are co-chairs of the Occupational Hygiene Training Association.
Even though the problem has been well recognized for decades, occupational injuries and deaths continue to be widespread, especially in the developing world. A significant contributor to this problem is the lack of occupational health resources in much of the developing world. At a 1994 World Health Organization meeting in Beijing, China, it was observed that, in many developing and newly industrialized countries, no more than 5–10 percent of the working population (and in several industrialized countries, less than 20–50 percent) have access to competent occupational health and safety resources in spite of the evident needs. 
If we look at statistics alone, we already know that more people die each year from occupational injuries and diseases than from other major causes that are much more visible (armed conflict and violence, HIV/AIDS, and road traffic). Statistics from WHO and the International Labor Organization reflect the following global fatalities: 
  • 2.78 million workers die each year from workplace causes, with 2.34 million (or 84 percent) of these dying from occupational diseases alone. This amounts to 6,411 deaths each day from occupational disease alone.
  • 381,000 (or 16 percent) of these 2.78 million workers die from occupational injuries alone.
And yet, according to Marianne Levitsky, a past president of Workplace Health Without Borders, these official statistics do not reflect other growing trends, such as:
  • environmental effects of workplace agents
  • environmental effects of and diseases exacerbated by workplace agents (such as silica and tuberculosis)
  • diseases that may be spread in workplace settings or which may require changes to working practices (such as COVID-19)
  • blurred lines between workplace, home, and community; exposed family, especially young and old vulnerable members
  • workers in developing economies who are not employed in formal sectors, with employment in the informal sector reaching 70 percent
  • few medical facilities and treatment centers in emerging economies
  • non-existent public health registries for major illness and industry types
  • the reality that, while fatal illnesses outnumber injuries, it is still injuries that are studied in detail, not illnesses
  • the shortage of professionals with scientific skills (physicians and nurses, emergency response personnel, virologists, epidemiologists, public health experts, biochemists, bioengineers, occupational hygienists, and safety professionals, to mention a few)
In 2014, an article in Annals of Global Health stated that global occupational health and safety must be an international priority. The reasons are compelling: economic globalization is leading to an increased OHS and public health gap. In developing countries, the absence of OHS infrastructure amplifies public health and development problems. Typically, existing occupational health institutions are underfunded. In addition, no more than 5–10 percent of workers in developing countries have access to skilled OHS practitioners. Economists generally assume (with shortsightedness) that OHS; emergency preparedness, response, and recovery; and public health are later developments in the social maturity curve and should normally be undertaken once the economy is strong enough to absorb the additional expenses required by preventive action.  As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” That brings us to the Occupational Hygiene Training Association (OHTA) and its inception. 
OHTA BACKGROUND 
Underlying the prevalence of occupational disease, injuries, and fatalities is the lack of adequately trained occupational hygienists who can not only anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control occupational hazards, but confirm their controls. Based on this pressing need, OHTA was formed in 2010 by a group of international colleagues. AIHA was one of the early partners. OHTA is a U.K.-registered charity with a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit arm in the United States.  OHTA provides an internationally accepted training and qualification framework, which is a stepping stone for developing professionals early in their careers. The training materials focus on practical, hands-on aspects of occupational and environmental hygiene. The emphasis is on teaching the practicalities involved with the identification, assessment, monitoring, and control of workplace hazards in practical situations. Quality, peer-reviewed teaching packages and modules, developed with the support of a global brain trust of skilled and experienced EHS volunteers, are available free to download at
ohlearning.com
. These modules are translated or suitable for translation into local languages and can be used by a variety of institutions across the world. Although anyone can download and use the modules, in order to maintain quality and consistency, courses that lead to the international qualification are run by OHTA Approved Training Providers (ATPs) and their organizations, which have at least one professionally qualified occupational hygienist and have demonstrated the ability to provide quality teaching.  These modules provide a means for delivering consistent, quality training on core aspects of occupational and environmental hygiene that complement and enhance existing training opportunities available in academia and in many industrial organizations. They have been designed for early-career trainees to bridge the gap between the principles-level courses and master’s-level programs. In the first 10 years of operation (2010–2019 inclusive), there were 190,000 users of
ohlearning.com
, 10,037 exam candidates, and 1,162 courses in more than 50 countries. These numbers reflect known course offerings; they do not include the many downloads by stakeholders for their own internal company uses.
OHTA Opens a U.S. Chapter
While OHTA is a U.K.-registered charity, it recently established a U.S. nonprofit chapter whose sole function is fundraising, which is critical to sustaining OHTA. For those in the U.S. who wish to take advantage of the donor tax credits, please email OHTA U.S. Chapter Chair Mark Katchen.
Figure 1. Current course offerings from OHTA.
Tap on the graphic to open a larger version in your browser.
NEW OFFERINGS
More recent OHTA initiatives include broadened collaborations with a number of organizations, including the International Occupational Hygiene Association, the International Commission on Occupational Health, WHO, ILO, Workplace Health Without Borders, and NIOSH, to name a few.  New course and module opportunities developed by OHTA include distance learning, a new focus on emerging health hazards, a renewed focus on age-old hazards in new applications, and expansion into safety-related issues, which often accompany occupational and environmental health issues. In addition, OHTA is developing a series of modules that provide specialist learning opportunities for specific audiences. A module on OH/IH in Mining and Mineral Processing Industries has already been published, and modules on the oil and gas industry and the pharmaceutical industry are in development. In partnership with the Phylmar Academy, OHTA recently developed a new 3–4 hour online course on occupational safety and health awareness. Content development was led by U.S.-based Zack Mansdorf (with contributors Deborah Dietrich, Chris Laszcz-Davis, Alan Leibowitz, Marianne Levitsky, Melissa Gould, David Hiipakka, and Ross Di Corleto). The course was developed in response to requests by OHTA stakeholders for a broad-based overview on safety and health since so many were facing safety issues in concert with health issues. This interactive course is modestly priced, and, in keeping with OHTA’s offer to global learners for freely downloadable materials, Zack Mansdorf has developed a companion set of non-interactive slides containing similar materials.  In an effort to address COVID-19 challenges associated with face-to-face teaching, U.K.-based David O’Malley and members of an OHTA task force that includes Mansdorf, Swiss-based Sven Hoffmann, U.K.-based Terry McDonald, and Netherlands-based Andrea Hiddinga, liaising with Lisa Williams of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, developed the criteria, reviewed ATP online training proposals, and determined who could be approved to teach online versions of OHTA’s more advanced technician-level  courses, all of which are considered to be CM-creditable as IH/OH coursework. Fourteen ATPs have been endorsed to deliver some or all of the modules online. This development is an opportunity for OHTA to prototype new learning methodologies. The task force will be reviewing  how the online courses have fared toward the end of 2020.  The expectation is that, going forward, the courses should be available using either face-to-face teaching or online delivery. A third option, known in educational circles as asynchronous teaching, which incorporates recorded lectures, webinars, videos, and so on, would require significant investment upfront and so is only likely to become viable if the demand for the courses increases substantially.
OHTA’S IMPACT
Since its founding in 2010, OHTA has evolved to become a significant global force in the training and development of the occupational and environmental hygiene profession in the developing world. Throughout its evolution, OHTA has focused on identifying gaps in the resources available to develop occupational and environmental hygiene expertise. Within the global occupational hygiene community, OHTA is a resource that can be used to help meet the common goal of improving worker health. OHTA contributes to this goal through collaboration with established professional bodies, aiming to enhance capability and create a career ladder for entry to the profession. The entry-level and intermediate course structure provides an accessible pathway for employers and students to progressively build occupational hygiene capability and improve worker health protection around the world. Beyond the statistics, there are many examples of OHTA’s profound impact on occupational hygiene learning across the globe. The scheme has supported and developed local OH training in China, the former Soviet Union, Iraq, South Africa, and Angola, to name a few. The founder and first president of the Indonesian Industrial Hygiene Association, Elsye Al Safira, initially attended OHTA training before going on to study for a Master of Science degree in occupational hygiene and the CIH certification. An occupational hygienist in Egypt gained OHTA’s International Occupational Hygiene Certificate (ICertOH) before being awarded full BOHS Chartered Status and delivering the OHTA course “Basic Principles of Occupational Hygiene” to a local onshore project. Other success stories include those of ATP Workplace Health Without Borders training conducted in Vietnam, Tanzania, South Africa, and Botswana. OHTA’s structure is deliberately designed to be responsive to the views of the established global occupational and environmental hygiene community while retaining a laser-like focus on the needs of businesses and others to build occupational hygiene capability. OHTA’s future will likely involve e-learning efforts and more distance learning capabilities and offerings, which are very helpful for developing countries that must limit course fees and travel expenses and require local venues for training. We also anticipate more specialty courses at all levels and more work on emerging health hazards including responses by occupational hygienists to epidemics and pandemics. OHTA is also looking to enhance its support to students. Countries where familiarity with the principles of occupational and environmental hygiene is not widespread often need help recognizing where hazards exist, evaluating all associated risks, and developing control strategies that do not give rise to unintended consequences. Knowledge of scientific principles is not enough. In countries such as the U.S., mentoring and support help establish the wider skills required to develop both the science and art of occupational hygiene. By use of case studies and syndicates, OHTA tries to help build these skills. However, in the future, OHTA hopes to create tools that facilitate sharing and mentoring. In the future, OHTA will need to address these emerging trends. Its plan is to continue working in partnership with stakeholders, such as employers, unions, and others, to identify their needs and develop a wider range of modules and training delivery options. These options will reflect emerging health trends as well as the need for greater use of technology and technological innovation in delivering occupational hygiene training and qualifications.  
CHRIS LASZCZ-DAVIS, MS, CIH, COH, FAIHA, AIC Fellow,
is president of The Environmental Quality Organization, LLC, and co-chair of the Occupational Hygiene Training Association.
STEVEN VERPAELE
is an industrial hygienist with the Nickel Institute in Brussels, Belgium, and co-chair of the Occupational Hygiene Training Association.
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RESOURCES
Annals of Global Health
: “Global Occupational Health: Current Challenges and the Need for Urgent Action” (November 2014). International Commission on Occupational Health: “Global Estimates of Occupational Accidents and Work-Related Illnesses 2017” (PDF, September 2017). World Health Organization: “Global Strategy on Occupational Health for All: The Way to Health at Work,” Collaborating Centres in Occupational Health meeting, Beijing, China (October 1994).