NIOSH Chief Questions OSH Act's Relevance in 21st Century

Is the OSH Act still effective in the 21st Century after more than 35 years of congressional and presidential restrictions placed on OSHA? That's the question NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard asked attendees of the 2007 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo on June 6 in Philadelphia. Howard said answering the question is a big task for industrial hygienists and the safety and health profession in general during the next five years.

Howard compared the constraints on OSHA's actions to the chains weighing down the Marley character in Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." He said the OSH Act was written "in an idealistic time in the middle of the last century" and did not anticipate the executive orders and congressional directives, many of them included in annual appropriations bills, that have been used to restrict the agency's action. OSHA chief Ed Foulke Jr. was seated on the stage beside Howard during the day's opening session but did not respond to the NIOSH's leader's comments.

Howard also said he sees a new world of exposure monitoring for industrial hygienists that is done at the genectic level of workers' exposure. And this monitoring will be done not just for workplace exposures, but for exposures in the worker's entire environment: at home and elsewhere. This expanded work, along with determining the value of the profession's contributions and an expanded IH skill set, is an encouraging future for the industrial hygiene profession, Howard said.

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