As his tenure as president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association comes to an end, Daniel H. Anna, PhD, CIH, CSP, reflects on the past, the present and the future of AIHA. Anna, who is a senior industrial hygienist and assistant group supervisor at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., has been a member of AIHA since 1991.

Anna will hand over the reins of AIHA during the 2016 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition May 21-26 in Inner Harbor Baltimore, Md. He will be succeeded by President-elect Steven E. Lacey, PhD, CIH, CSP, who is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health Science within the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health in Indianapolis.

What are the most pressing issues facing industrial hygienists?

The role of the industrial hygienist continues to evolve. We need to shift industrial hygiene into a business-minded profession based on a strong scientific and technical foundation for IHs to remain successful at implementing the controls and mitigations needed to protect workers. The knowledge, skills and competencies associated with industrial hygiene remain a vital part of protecting worker health. But the responsibilities of the IH have expanded to include broader environmental safety and health areas and into the overall business of an organization.

Protecting worker health may be the "right thing to do," but today successful IHs can identify, demonstrate and communicate the business value associated with protecting workers. Because of this, we have the opportunity to integrate the basic concepts of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, controlling and confirming – the fundamental foundation of the profession – into the fabric of what defines good business practice.
 
As we continue to promote industrial hygiene as a rewarding profession to STEM-minded students, we need to rebrand how we discuss who we are and what we do to reflect our changing responsibilities.  We also need to ensure that our core competencies include the appropriate business and communication skills and that the academic programs preparing the next generation of IHs include those competencies.

What do you consider a recent success story in industrial hygiene?
 
OSHA has to overcome tremendous challenges to take almost any action. Issuing the Final Rule on Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica was a great industrial hygiene success story and a significant step toward addressing the preventable illnesses caused by occupational exposures to respirable crystalline silica. Hopefully, it's an example of how scientific evidence can be used as the basis for regulatory action.  

In what areas would you most like to see OSHA take action?

It would beneficial for the profession, and more importantly for the workers we try to protect, if OSHA were able to update the permissible exposure limits (PELs). Ideally, the solution would include a means to prevent future PELs from lagging behind the scientific research that is used to develop occupational exposure limits. Because of the challenges associated with updating so many individual chemical PELs, perhaps the resolution will involve identifying a different type of guidance for controlling exposures to an "acceptable" level.

What are some new industrial hygiene issues facing workers today?

Changes in technology and the expansion into a global market have created industrial hygiene challenges. Technological innovations have increased the use of nano-scale materials into all aspects of manufacturing, and the new uses for nano materials is outpacing the understanding of the potential health hazards and the development and validation of appropriate control methods. Advances in 3D printing technology that allow production using polymers, metals and even biological materials have introduced new opportunities for exposures to both familiar and unfamiliar contaminants, including ultra-fine particles and volatile organic compounds.

Controlling exposures from these new processes often requires identification and implementation of different, and sometimes creative, countermeasures. The increasing use of biological materials, synthetic biology and DNA manipulations have increased the need to control biological exposures and the potential for exposures to contaminants with unknown characteristics.

The continued globalization of manufacturing can result in "old" industrial hygiene issues becoming a prevalent risk, especially when the manufacturing occurs in developing countries. Industrial hygienists may find that they are working to reduce exposures to lead, silica and other traditional hazards that are not controlled to the extent expected or achieved in the U.S.  

Another challenge comes from the changing demographics of the workplace and shifting employment relationships. As the workforce ages, the challenges of protecting worker health can increase, particularly when the work is physically demanding. The shifting of work to an "on-demand" workforce comprised of more temporary and transient employees makes it more difficult for the industrial hygienist to assess the potential effects of workplace exposures over an extended period of time. This results in workers with an exposures history that may not be known to their current employer and raises questions about the ability to track chronic exposures in an effort to prevent the development of occupational illnesses and properly protect workers and their community.

What did you most hope to achieve as president of AIHA?

AIHA's leadership structure is built on the concept of teamwork during our four-year progression from vice president through past president. Looking back on my term as it comes to an end, I hope that the progress we have made in several areas has established a foundation for future activity and has built on the accomplishments of my predecessors.  

During the past year, AIHA developed and approved an updated strategic direction focused on fostering a community of professionals dedicated to protecting worker health; enabling the community of professionals through the development of the tools and technologies needed to support the profession; and influencing decisions through collaboration, communication, education and advocacy.  

Our volunteers are the true lifeblood of the association. In the spirit of the strategic direction, we improved our processes to engage more members in active volunteer roles by being transparent about our activities and more purposed in identifying products and services that would benefit the profession.  

We have continued to nurture and develop our relationships. There are a couple of examples that have already progressed to a point where there are tangible, positive results. Our close relationship with ABIH and the collaborative meetings between our respective boards during the past few years have resulted in some very exciting developments that will be announced in the next year. AIHAs trilateral partnership with the British Occupational Hygiene Society and the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists has developed into a strong voice for promoting occupational hygiene across Australia, the UK and the U.S. and the ability to influence the protection of worker health globally.