Industrial Hygiene and Community Service

By Birkner, Lawrence R. | Occupational Hazards, May 1993 | Go to article overview

Industrial Hygiene and Community Service


Birkner, Lawrence R., Occupational Hazards


Over the last decade, as the public's awareness of both workplace and environmental issues has grown, name recognition of the industrial hygiene profession has certainly improved. Still, the industrial hygienist is not as well known or accepted as the physician, lawyer, or engineer.

This lack of recognition of the industrial hygiene profession, along with the higher level of name recognition that the environmental and safety professions enjoy, has created some credibility problems for industrial hygienists. Together, the lack of recognition and credibility issues have opened the door for other professions to chip away at the professional domain and practice of the IH.

How do we increase recognition and credibility? We must start acting like professionals in areas outside of our normal jobs. Before industrial hygiene can truly be called a profession, IHs must establish an ethic of returning something to the communities where they live and work. They must become active players in the community, as have the medical, dental, and legal professions.

What can industrial hygienists offer outside of the traditional workplace?

Pro Bono/Reduced Fee Industrial Hygiene Services: Providing pro bono or reduced fee services to small employers who would not normally hire an industrial hygienist would enable us to reach workers who have little chance of seeing an occupational health professional outside of the workers' compensation system. The benefits are many: improved worker health and safety, reduced burden on the workers' compensation system, improved regulatory compliance by smaller employers, improved productivity and competitiveness of these employers, and maybe even job growth. Last but certainly not least, a heightened recognition, acceptance, and understanding of the industrial hygiene profession.

When I discuss this concept with some of my colleagues, I hear a number of arguments against the pro bono/reduced fee concept. First, it will take work away from the growing consultant community within our profession. Wrong! The types of employers we hope to reach would never call in an IH consultant in the first place. These employers don't even know we exist or what we do! I think it will have just the opposite effect. Over time, as these smaller employers become larger and more successful, in part because of the services we provide, pro bono work will help to build the market for paid industrial hygiene services.

Liability and insurance issues are also of concern. Without a doubt, in the litigious environment in which we operate, these issues must be resolved. My first assumption is that our members would practice under the highest ethical and professional standards, and that errors would be few. With the growing availability of liability insurance for the profession, I must believe that arrangements to cover industrial hygienists performing these services can be engineered. …

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