DONNA S. HEIDEL, CIH, FAIHA, is principal industrial hygienist at Amazon.
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A Research Agenda for the Profession
In September 2021, AIHA and ACGIH launched our Defining the Science initiative, which attempts to bridge the divide between OEHS researchers and practitioners. Our goals are to make research more useful to practitioners by helping researchers understand workplace needs, and to increase awareness among practitioners of existing research that could help address current workplace problems. The initiative involves the development of a research agenda. Ultimately, we intend to identify sources of funding that can help bring individual research projects to fruition.
The Defining the Science initiative began with a series of town hall-style virtual meetings open to all AIHA and ACGIH members. Next, both memberships were invited to contribute ideas for research projects by filling out an online form. Once these ideas were collected, the Defining the Science Advisory Group discussed, consolidated, and prioritized them for publication as a research agenda.
ON THE AGENDA The research agenda is now available for download as a PDF from the AIHA website. The document is divided into two parts: “practice to research,” which identifies barriers to practice that exist due to lack of knowledge; and “research to practice,” which addresses the dissemination of new knowledge that has the potential to improve IH or OEHS practice.
Among the topics identified in the “practice to research” section are occupational safety and health surveillance, quantifying the health and economic burden of occupational disease, exposure surveillance, improving exposure and risk assessment, validating control technologies, respiratory protection for bioaerosols during pandemics, and quantifying the need for well-trained OEHS professionals.
In the “research to practice” section, topics include encouraging the routine use of statistical tools for exposure judgments, accelerating adoption of exposure predictor models, examining psychosocial disorders and mental health through the lens of the NIOSH Total Worker Health program, and heat stress management.
Some of the topics in our research agenda dovetail nicely with current federal government efforts to improve indoor air quality in schools and commercial buildings.
MEETING WITH THE WHITE HOUSE Some of the topics in our research agenda dovetail nicely with current federal government efforts to improve indoor air quality in schools and commercial buildings. For example, our agenda calls for research to validate the WELL building standard, which purports to rate a building’s ability to “deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance human health and well-being.” Our agenda also identifies the need to validate the efficacy and safety of new infection control technologies such as ultraviolet irradiation and ultra-filtration. Such research would have clear benefits for the health of building occupants. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has directed resources toward improving IAQ. Last December, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a fact sheet expressing commitment to cleaner indoor air across the nation and highlighting government actions such as improving ventilation in federal buildings and exploring the implementation of germicidal UV in workplaces. OSTP has also launched a federal committee on airborne infection research. In February, AIHA CEO Larry Sloan participated in a meeting at the White House that included representatives from ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architects, and the Integrated Bioscience and Built Environment Consortium. The intent of the meeting was to provide feedback on White House efforts related to IAQ. Among the topics discussed were the challenges of navigating federal funding, whether schools would be able to effectively spend any funds made available for improving IAQ, and ways to engage the general public about the importance of IAQ. A detailed discussion of the meeting is on the SynergistNOW blog. ENGAGEMENT AND COMMITMENT Creating a research agenda was a huge accomplishment that required contributions from many people, including not only the volunteers on our Defining the Science Advisory Group but also every AIHA and ACGIH member who participated in a town hall or submitted a research idea. That kind of engagement bodes well for the profession as our focus turns to finding partners to fund the research projects we’ve identified. It also illustrates the commitment we’ll need to help put this pandemic behind us and prepare for the next one.