DONNA S. HEIDEL, CIH, FAIHA, is principal industrial hygienist at Amazon.
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Standards of Care for Exposure Assessment
Last month, AIHA achieved a significant milestone in its Standards of Care initiative. This initiative was established within the AIHA Guideline Foundation to document professional practices that reliably and effectively protect workers from unacceptable risks. Guided by AIHA’s Standards of Care Advisory Group, work is proceeding that will identify minimum expected global standards of care for various domains within occupational and environmental health and safety.
I’m excited to announce that work on the domain of occupational exposure assessment is now available through the AIHA website. The document lists risk-critical practices related to exposure assessment within specific OEHS processes or programs, indicates whether these practices are standards of care (that is, the minimum expected performance) or best practices, and identifies sources of related information.
EVALUATING OEHS PROGRAMS For example, the document names 15 discreet OEHS processes and programs within exposure assessment, such as basic characterization, similar exposure groups, exposure judgments, health hazard controls, communications and training, and recordkeeping. Within each process or program are several risk-critical practices. Three such practices are listed for communications and training: the timely and effective reporting of findings and recommendations; the use of effective illustrations such as charts and graphs; and the provision of agent-specific education to workers with higher exposures. The document directs readers to A Strategy for Assessing and Managing Occupational Exposures, chapter 10, “Recordkeeping and Reporting for Current and Future Needs,” for more information.
Overall, more than 60 risk-critical practices for exposure assessment are listed across the 15 OEHS processes and programs. The document is designed to be concise and easy to use. OEHS professionals are encouraged to refer to it when evaluating their own programs and determining where they should best spend their time.
The document also offers suggestions for OEHS professionals on how to apply the information to their own programs. A process is described that encompasses identifying areas of improvement, prioritizing these areas, developing a plan to address priorities, implementing the plan and tracking progress, and verifying the plan’s effectiveness.
By identifying minimum expected practices within specific domains of practice, our goal is to elevate all OEHS programs across the board.
AIHA plans to add additional domains to the document. In 2023, we anticipate rolling out standards of care on hearing loss prevention, respiratory protection, occupational exposure banding, and general management.
It’s important to note that the practices identified are not intended to denote legal obligations or technical standards (such as those produced by ANSI or ISO), nor do they represent consensus among AIHA members or OEHS professionals. They reflect the opinions of experts within AIHA and related fields and will be periodically updated.
EMPOWERING PRACTITIONERS Related to standards of care, AIHA is conducting a series of research studies to identify and address gaps between current practice and state-of-the-art practice in OEHS. The first of several surveys is scheduled to be deployed later this month and will focus on airborne chemical exposure assessment. We are seeking input to better understand current practices and learn how best to support and empower practitioners when conducting effective and efficient exposure assessments. Subsequent surveys will follow on hearing loss prevention and the other topics noted above.
The standards of care for occupational exposure assessment would not have been possible without the dedication of AIHA’s Exposure Assessment Strategies Committee. Similarly, we are working with the Exposure and Control Banding, Leadership and Management, Noise, and Respiratory Protection Committees to build out standards of care in their respective subjects.
Our Standards of Care initiative is motivated by the recognition that the performance of OEHS programs is highly variable, leading to increased risks for certain workers and communities. By identifying minimum expected practices within specific domains of practice, our goal is to elevate all OEHS programs across the board and help AIHA come closer to achieving our vision of a world where all workers and communities are healthy and safe.