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Beyond Compliance
I would like to expand on John Mulhausen’s comments on limiting our professional activities to interpreting legislation (“Occupational Exposure Banding: No More Excuses,” February issue). He has said everything that should be needed, but I am not sure how well it is accepted.
I have noted that many questions, such as “What is the best way to …” or “What would you do if …,” too often degenerate into an intense debate over what regulatory clause should be followed. There appears to be an assumption that a legislated requirement represents good practice, and if the legislation is followed, workers would receive the best protection. My experience advising regulatory drafters, drafting regulations, enforcing legislation, and applying the legislation is that, at best, legislation is the minimum required to protect workers, not the apex of worker protection. Legislation is often the result of many compromises designed to keep everyone happy. Also, the legislation is not current with the science. If we limit our duties to ensuring compliance with legislation, large blocks of workers will be unprotected, such as those who work with materials that don’t have a legislated occupational exposure limit. These workers will not receive even the minimum protection if legislation, instead of professional opinion, is our primary guide. When faced with a problem, we should not look at the legislation to decide what has to be done. We should look at our science to determine what must be done, then look at the legislation to see if all the legal requirements have been met. The driving force should be the science, not the legislation. Industrial hygienists, not lawyers, should define healthy workplaces. As my professor Knowlton Caplan once said, “There are scientific truths, and there are legal truths. It is nice when they coincide, but they do not have to.” John Elias, MPH, CIH (Retired), ROH, FAIHA
Historically, our regulators have found it extremely difficult to align with the current state of the art, even when the political climate is favorable.
Mulhausen responds: Well stated, John! While it is always important that we advocate for regulations that protect workers in alignment with sound science, today’s realities are that wishing and waiting for regulations to do the job is a dead end. Historically, our regulators have found it extremely difficult to align with the current state of the art, even when the political climate is favorable. It is time for us, as a profession and as individual practitioners, to take a more proactive role in moving worker health and safety forward. That is why I’m so excited about our new initiatives to advance both our science and the performance of our professional practice.
Our Standards of Care initiative will define minimum practice performance expectations for ensuring adequate worker protection. Our State of the Art vs. Practice initiative will implement a continuous improvement strategy to close gaps between current practice and the state of the art and standards of care, while our joint AIHA/ACGIH Improving Exposure Judgment Accuracy project accelerates that effort in a critical area where we know current practice is not aligned with current science. Finally, our AIHA/ACGIH Defining the Science initiative seeks to advance our science to benefit practitioners and improve our ability to protect workers and communities.
Yes, these are big projects with lofty goals that seek to accelerate changes in our practice to better protect workers and communities. And yes, change is unsettling. But it is time for us to step up to achieve our common vision of a world where all workers and their communities are healthy and safe.
John Mulhausen, PhD, CIH, CSP, FAIHA
AIHA President