In the early 1980s, when Steve Jahn was in graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, he had an idea of what his career in industrial hygiene would be like: he would be the one with knowledge of how to protect workers, and management would graciously defer to his judgment.

“When I got out of school, I was looking for a company that was going to call me the expert,” Jahn recalls. “They would say, ‘Jahn, what do you think?’ and I’d give them an answer. I would be the smart guy in the room, and off we’d go.”
That’s not how it works, of course. Jahn still knows something about protecting workers, but upper managers don’t simply accept his recommendations. They’re smart, too, and one of the many things they’re responsible for is the bottom line. And if one of Jahn’s interventions costs thousands of dollars, they want to know why it needs to be done that way. Could it be done differently—more cheaply, but just as effectively? And if it can’t, why not?
Many industrial hygienists are familiar with this scenario. No matter your experience and educational background, establishing your credibility is vital, and persuasion is part of the job. And when a manager asks, “Why are you doing it that way?” it would be very persuasive to reference an official, independently developed explanation of competent industrial hygiene practice.
Why? That’s why.
There are good reasons why such a reference doesn’t exist. The profession is too broad, the roles IHs play too various. Differences between industries and practitioners’ experiences can be significant. A thirty-year veteran CIH and exposure assessment expert like Jahn needs to know different things than a new graduate.
But a series of new AIHA-led projects is intended to fill those gaps. Teams of volunteers working on these bodies of knowledge, or BoKs, are attempting to define what IHs need to know, no matter their industry, specialty, education level, or career stage. A PIECEMEAL APPROACH A body of knowledge comprises the concepts, terms, and activities that make up a professional domain. “Think of it as a complete set of learning objectives,” says Mary Ann Latko, AIHA’s managing director for Scientific and Technical Initiatives, which is supporting the BoK effort.
Once completed, the BoKs will occupy a central position in AIHA. They will be “the starting point from which we will decide what education we need to build, whether it’s PDCs or books or webinars,” Latko says. “Maybe there would be a registry. We’d see if there’s a need for it both from a technical standpoint and from the marketplace.”
Often, a BoK is accompanied by an annotated bibliography of resources mapped to specific skills or areas of knowledge. Common features of BoKs include lists of applicable standards and regulations, rules for practicing the profession, and options for professional development and continuing education.
Building a single body of knowledge for the entirety of the profession would be a Herculean task, so AIHA is focusing on smaller areas of practice. BoKs are currently under development for exposure assessment, respiratory protection program administration, and field use of multigas meters and photo-ionization detectors. Latko compares this piecemeal approach to the way the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) has structured the Certified Industrial Hygienist credential around a series of rubrics, or subject areas. The main difference, Latko says, is that the CIH rubrics concentrate on the highest level of industrial hygiene practice, while the BoKs may address different levels of practitioner skill, what we might call apprentice, journeyman, and master levels. STARTING FROM STRAW The difficulty of the undertaking is not lost on Lisa Greene, who is working with AIHA on a contract basis to help develop the BoKs. “It’s really a big task,” she says, “and the strategy is to take small bites of a large apple.” 
A director of Microanalytical Sciences at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Greene has worked with AIHA for many years through RTI’s role as a contractor to the AIHA Proficiency Analytical Testing (PAT) Programs, LLC. RTI is a not-for-profit research organization whose researchers provide training and technical services to governments and businesses in more than 70 countries. For AIHA’s BoKs, RTI has hosted meetings of each project’s core team of volunteers. In addition to facilitating those face-to-face meetings, Greene has led the teams through several virtual exercises where discussion was managed through a collaborative Web-based tool supported by RTI’s Center for Forensic Sciences.
The core teams comprise experts from every corner of the profession, including some whose training, like Greene’s, is outside of traditional industrial hygiene. Some team members are toxicologists; others represent first responders and firefighters. Some are responsible for using equipment or implementing standards. Equipment manufacturers are also represented. And there are, of course, a variety of CIHs: some who are in daily practice, some in management, some in consulting.
This Is How We Do It
Building Bodies of Knowledge in Industrial Hygiene
“I anticipate that there will be a number of these [BoKs] that would serve a hygienist who is tapped on the shoulder and told, ‘You know, we’re going to need you to tackle X for us.’”