On Brand
The Name Has Changed, but AIHA’s Annual Conference Continues to Deliver Excellence in OEHS Education
Goodbye, AIHce EXP. Hello, AIHA Connect.
On May 24, at the closing session of AIHce EXP 2023 in Phoenix, conference organizers revealed a new brand for the event, retiring the decades-old acronym “AIHce” and embracing a name that evokes the introduction of new ideas and the building of relationships.
AIHA CEO Larry Sloan explained the process behind the change in a SynergistNOW blog post. “Few of those newer to our profession recognize the name AIHce EXP or fully understand its meaning,” Sloan wrote. “As a result, AIHA leadership felt the need to do a ‘brand refresh’ on the conference name.”
AIHA Connect will debut in Columbus, Ohio, next May. For more about the new name, read Sloan’s post.
The change came at a time of broader transformation and renewal, just weeks after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The Phoenix conference marked the first time since 2019 that attendees met for a face-to-face AIHA event without restrictions related to the pandemic. That the pandemic isn’t over was, of course, amply reflected in the conference agenda.
Hundreds of virtual participants joined the thousands gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center for a wide range of engaging presentations and applied research. On these pages, The Synergist presents summaries from its coverage of the conference. Longer versions of these reports, as well as additional articles, are available from the AIHA website.

TOWARD EMPATHETIC TECH In the months since ChatGPT took the internet by storm, much has been written about the perils of artificial intelligence. While the neuroscientist Poppy Crum understands these concerns, she believes fixating on them ignores the tremendous benefits that humanity is poised to receive from smarter, more powerful AI.
As Crum explained during her opening keynote address, the key to this transformation is “empathetic technology,” a term for devices that respond to biological measurements. A tiny sensor placed in the inner ear, for example, can create an electroencephalogram that potentially identifies biomarkers for seizures or strokes. Other devices that analyze speech patterns could predict the development of Alzheimer’s by picking up on verbal cues that escape human recognition, such as slight stutters, repetitions, and delays between sentences.
If the benefits of such applications are obvious, so are the hurdles, particularly ethical considerations. Crum acknowledged that people may not want their every word and biological signal analyzed and mapped.
“The developments in sensors that allow us to know things about our bodies in our spaces are exponential,” Crum said. It seems only a matter of time before their potential, and their consequences, become reality.
Poppy Crum addressed attendees during the opening session of AIHce EXP 2023 at the Phoenix Convention Center.
GROWING PAINS The rapid development of real-time particulate monitors (RTPM) has given rise to justifiable excitement about their potential applications in workplaces. Unfortunately, as industrial hygienist Dustin Bennett explained during a technical session on May 22, guidance on these devices has not kept pace with their increasing usage.
Typically, Bennett said, organizations are motivated to try RTPM devices when exposure measurements exceed occupational exposure limits or stakeholders such as unions raise concerns. In these reactive scenarios, the decision-making process is often hasty. Potential devices are identified by searching the internet or speaking with sales representatives, and the instruments are placed on workers right out of the box with the intent of measuring against an OEL.
“Unfortunately, it’s not [that] simple,” Bennett said.
Bennett recommended a three-step deployment process for RTPM devices, which he characterized as discover, plan, and implement. In the discovery phase, organizations should determine the risk-based need for RTPM devices and prioritize the exposures they’re concerned about. The planning phase includes setting objectives, selecting devices, and planning to communicate about the instruments to workers and deploy them in a facility. In the implementation phase, organizations should focus on documenting processes, training employees, and acting on the results obtained from the instrument.
Above all, Bennett urged organizations new to RTPM devices to adopt modest goals. “In my opinion, it’s best to walk before you run in this space,” he said. “Keep it simple.”
UPSETTING THE PARADIGM At a provocative session held May 23, presenters Steve Jahn, Phil Smith, and Mike Phibbs encouraged their audience to reimagine basic industrial hygiene practices. They argued for a new understanding of the term “sample.” They suggested minimizing IHs’ reliance on similar exposure groups (SEGs) and time-weighted averages (TWAs). They even proposed shaking up the IH process of anticipate, recognize, evaluate, control, and confirm (ARECC) by shifting “control” to a new spot in the order (ARCEC).
The assumption behind SEGs, Smith explained, is that statistical analysis of a few samples can provide enough information about exposures to protect large numbers of workers. But the drawbacks of this approach were apparent from the start. Smith quoted a 1977 NIOSH publication that described SEGs as “an undesirable compromise” necessitated by “limited numbers of industrial hygienists and few resources available to measure the exposure of each employee.”
That same publication defines a sample as “airborne contaminant(s) collected on a physical device,” a definition that is baked into regulations, ensuring that tubes and pumps are needed for compliance—even though real-time monitors show that these tools miss a great deal of variability in exposures. Pumps are designed to help IHs determine the TWA, but looking only at an average concentration misses the spikes in exposures that happen over the course of a workday or work shift.
The remainder of the session provided additional context for the themes Smith introduced. Phibbs discussed his successes with control banding, a qualitative approach to identifying control methods that some IHs have been reluctant to adopt, presumably preferring to wait for laboratory-confirmed sampling data to determine controls. Phibbs seemed to suggest that there should be more urgency to control exposures—advocating, in effect, for the “control” step of ARECC to move up in the process.
According to Jahn, the effectiveness of control banding in small enterprises yields important insights for the future of the profession. “We have to figure out a simpler way of doing business,” he said. “Nobody’s going to have the money to hire one of us to come in with a sampler.”
BIOAEROSOL SAMPLING IN HEALTHCARE At a session on May 24, three experienced professionals described the challenges of sampling bioaerosols in healthcare facilities. Cynthia Ellwood, an industrial hygiene consultant, explained that a variety of bioaerosols are of potential interest, including the fungi aspergillus and mucorales, the tuberculosis bacterium, and the measles and varicella-zoster viruses. The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought wide recognition of the potential for SARS-CoV-2 to spread among hospital patients and staff.
Ellwood’s co-presenter Suzanne Blevins, the director of an industrial hygiene laboratory, encouraged OEHS professionals to work with their labs to identify the right method for the agent of interest. “Your laboratory is your best partner to enhance the protocol” to find specific bioaerosols, Blevins said.
Much of the session focused on a case study involving patients who have undergone bone-marrow transplants (BMT). Laura Riley, an industrial hygienist with a hospital in Georgia that has a large BMT patient population, explained that she performs sampling in unoccupied rooms at least six hours after they’ve been cleaned. Because bone-marrow patients are a sensitive population, the ventilation is designed to meet stringent requirements, and the rooms are presumed to be so clean that Riley treats a sampling result of a mere two colony-forming units per cubic meter of air (cfu/m3) as a trigger for further investigation.
On one occasion, sampling data informed a change in process for conducting routine maintenance on the air-handling unit (AHU) serving the BMT rooms. To minimize disruptions to patients, maintenance staff typically changed the filters in the middle of the night, a task that required the AHU to be shut down. When the AHU was restarted, particulate spiked in patient rooms at a time when the patients were sleeping—and therefore unprotected. The new procedure, which occurs during the day, involves coordination between the maintenance and nursing staff so that patients are placed in N95 respirators before the AHU is shut down. The lesson, Riley said, is that “you really have to control for your environment.”

At the AIHce EXP 2023 closing session, Fredi Lajvardi recounted his successes getting students interested in STEM fields.
THE ART AND SCIENCE OF INDUSTRIAL VENTILATION George Gruetzmacher’s presentation on May 24 attempted to bridge gaps in understanding between OEHS professionals and the manufacturers of ventilation systems. OEHS professionals, he said, strive to keep workplace exposures to contaminants—which are typically measured in micrograms per cubic meter, or mg/m3—below an occupational exposure limit 95 percent of the time. Such a goal is difficult to explain to ventilation manufacturers, whose main metric is cubic feet per minute, or cfm. “We’re talking different languages,” Gruetzmacher said.
The most important part of a ventilation system is the hood, which is where contaminants enter the ductwork. A ventilation engineer designing a spray booth, for example, is not likely to consider how a worker’s presence affects the movement of air. OEHS professionals need to provide that perspective because, as Gruetzmacher said, “We can’t spend half a million dollars to build a model of every workstation.”
Gruetzmacher closed his presentation by sharing a list of essential resources, including the ACGIH publications Industrial Ventilation: A Manual of Recommended Practice for Design and Industrial Ventilation: A Manual of Recommended Practice for Operation and Maintenance; the ASHRAE Handbook—HVAC Applications; and the ANSI/ASSP standard Z9.2-2018, Fundamentals Governing the Design and Operation of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) Systems. “If [a manufacturer has] nothing on this list, I would be very suspicious about their ability to design, fabricate, install, and operate your ventilation system,” Gruetzmacher said.
EXCITED ABOUT STEM “We learn the most when we fail”: this was the reason Fredi Lajvardi’s underwater robotics team from a disadvantaged high school entered a university-level competition. The year was 2004, and Lajvardi had taught at Carl Hayden high school in Phoenix for 16 years. The school had one of the largest Spanish-speaking student populations in the United States, and the vast majority qualified for the National School Lunch Program. Through an after-school technology club he’d introduced dozens of kids to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) applications, including electric vehicle and robotics competitions. But none of them had ever built an underwater robot. As Lajvardi explained during his closing session address, “The only tools we had were the scientific method and common sense.”
Their lack of experience turned out to be an asset. Unencumbered by preconceived notions of what an underwater robot was supposed to be, they rejected the poolside rigs and heavy electrical cables used by other teams, powering their entry with a lightweight, on-board battery designed to last no longer than the length of the competition; this design gave their robot a crucial advantage in mobility. Having spent some of their formative years in Mexican schools, Lajvardi’s students were comfortable with the metric system, a facility that served them well in the presentation portion of the competition. When their robot sprung a leak, they plugged it with a tampon. Competition officials were so impressed by this out-of-the-box thinking that they invented a “judges’ award” to recognize it. In addition to the top prizes in design and technical writing, the team placed first overall.
Their stunning victory is the quintessential underdog story. It was told and retold in a major magazine article, a book, and not one but three movies, including Spare Parts starring George Lopez and Marisa Tomei. But it wouldn’t have been possible without Lajvardi’s singular ability to get teenagers excited about STEM. Long before their story captivated audiences, Lajvardi proved adept at capturing his students’ imaginations.
His successes are of obvious interest to industrial hygienists looking for ways to introduce young people to the OEHS profession. At AIHce, Lajvardi encouraged his audience to volunteer as safety inspectors for high school robotics competitions, a role that would allow them to interact with young people and tell them about occupational health and safety.
But his main message was the value of diversity. Many of the kids he has helped were overlooked because of their class, their gender, or their race, and they’ve taught him that the key to group success, especially in STEM fields, is accommodating as many perspectives as possible. “The more different points of view you have,” he said, “the more chance you have of finding the best solution.”
ED RUTKOWSKI is editor in chief of The Synergist.
AIHA Connect 2024 will be held in Columbus, Ohio, May 20–22. Visit aihaconnect.org for more information.