Industrial hygienists once defined their profession in terms of recognition, evaluation, and control. The new buzzwords for the 1990s may be anticipation, service, and communication.
Just imagine what it would be like if we embraced change as an opportunity to meet the future," Alex Pollock, manager of environmental quality/industrial hygiene for Dow USA, proposed to attendees at the Professional Conference on Industrial Hygiene (PCIH) in Colorado Springs, Colo. "That's certainly easier said than done, when you come to recognize that really the only people who like change are babies with wet nappies."
Though delivered in jest, Pollock's remark underscored a serious theme running through much of the annual meeting sponsored by the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene this past October. According to a number of the profession's leaders, hygienists who fail to retool for the 1990s and take a broader, more proactive approach to their profession face a clear threat to their relevance in the work world.
UAW Health and Safety Director Frank Mirer, noting that General Motors and Chrysler have closed their industrial hygiene labs, warned, "We are a profession in trouble."
Mirer recalled that the birth of American industrial hygiene arose in part from an outbreak of lead poisoning in the auto industry in 1934, and the decision by automakers to hire staffs to deal with that health threat. Today, Mirer said, a growing number of companies have a perception that the need for industrial hygiene services "is done." But citing a laundry list of jobs in the auto industry where higher than expected cancer rates have been found among workers whose exposures to chemicals "were in compliance with the standards then and now," Mirer said public health professionals need to explain to employers that "those needs are definitely not done."
John Pendergrass, an industrial hygiene consultant and former OSHA administrator, pointed out that "economics" has caused some large companies to reexamine having comprehensive industrial hygiene services. In order to reach the largely untapped market of smaller companies, he said, the hygiene profession would have to change the way it delivers its services.
Arguing that the "era of industrial hygiene consultants is upon us," Pendergrass said the industrial hygienist must be, like lawyers or accountants, the professional who is "available to solve problems" and who can be "hired for the time required to do the job."
Pendergrass called for the establishment of consulting firms that are "visible in the industrial park, in the areas where people work," and that could provide a "tempting menu of services" consisting of occupational health, industrial hygiene, safety, and environmental functions. Companies, said Pendergrass, "regardless of size prefer to have comprehensive service available from a single source."
Industrial hygienists are not about to disappear from large corporations, but leaders in the field say they will have to change how they manage their function, how they interact with other company personnel, and what duties they perform.
When Soft Is Hard
Dow's Pollock, for example, said that along with providing employers with "hard" expertise in the sciences, hygienists would have to become more skilled at "soft" people issues such as professional development and organizational productivity. He commented, "I'm beginning to appreciate that the hard stuff is easy. The soft stuff is truly hard. And the soft stuff is more important than the hard stuff."
Pollock urged hygienists to adopt quality performance principles in the practice of their profession. He suggested that audience members first start with a "vision" of what the IH department would be. He offered a definition where it would be "recognized by customers and peers as a team of highly trained and motivated professionals which provides the highest quality industrial hygiene services. …