JOHN MULHAUSEN, PhD, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, retired in 2018 from 3M where he worked for 31 years in a variety of global health and safety risk management roles, most recently as director of corporate safety and industrial hygiene. Send feedback to The Synergist.

Standards of Care: Competence Plus Performance
Over the years, AIHA has published several bodies of knowledge that define the minimum knowledge and skills OEHS professionals must possess to practice in a particular area. These and other similar publications reflect our preoccupation with competence, or the ability to successfully perform our jobs.
Competence is, of course, necessary for successful industrial hygiene and OEHS programs, but it will get us only so far. AIHA has a long, proud history of offering education and resources designed to improve our knowledge of IH and OEHS. The logical next step is to provide a framework that professionals can use to improve the performance of our programs to better and more consistently manage risks on the shop floor.
WHAT WE KNOW VS. WHAT WE DO The protection provided to workers and communities varies significantly across workplaces. Part of this variability stems from differences in the ways that OEHS professionals implement the risk-critical pieces of their health and safety programs.
For example, consider two OEHS professionals with similar educational backgrounds and credentials but differing approaches to OEHS programs. Practitioner A defines success as compliance with regulatory requirements, while Practitioner B adopts a more comprehensive approach with health protection as its goal. In a scenario where workers face a chemical hazard, Practitioner A will work to limit exposures to levels below the relevant OSHA permissible exposure limit. Practitioner B, by contrast, will put controls in place to drive exposures below a more protective occupational exposure limit such as the ACGIH threshold limit value.
This difference in approach has profound implications for the workers in these facilities—implications that have nothing to do with the competencies of the OEHS professionals. Practitioner A and Practitioner B are equally knowledgeable about assessing and controlling the hazard. The difference derives not from what they know but what they do.
Competencies enable conformance to standards of care but don’t guarantee it. A person can be capable of performing a certain way without actually doing so.
As this simplistic example makes clear, Practitioner A and Practitioner B are implementing two different standards of care. A standard of care is the minimum expected performance established for a particular profession or function. Standards of care are typically based on established norms, guidelines, standards, regulations, and proven practices; they are concerned with implementation, behavior, and outcomes. Competencies, on the other hand, are about skills and capabilities. Competencies enable conformance to standards of care but don’t guarantee it. A person can be capable of performing a certain way without actually doing so.
MINIMUM PROTECTION AIHA is developing a standards of care initiative designed to better align practitioners around a common vision of what constitutes minimum protection for workers and communities. The initiative will seek to identify the OEHS practices that influence risk and determine how to provide a reasonable level of protection across various OEHS processes and programs. Our goal is to document a concise, easy-to-use summary of minimum recommended global standards of care for the professional practice of OEHS that incorporate best risk management practices whenever feasible.
This initiative goes hand in hand with other new AIHA efforts such as the Defining the Science initiative, a collaboration between AIHA and ACGIH that is developing a national OEHS research agenda. When our work on standards of care concludes, it will go a long way toward helping us achieve our vision of a world where all workers and communities are healthy and safe.
As a first step in this initiative, a Board task force is looking to engage subject matter experts from AIHA volunteer groups to help document these standards of care. If you're interested in contributing, please respond to our call for volunteers, which will be posted to AIHA's website later this month.