Think Globally, Howard Tells AIHce Crowd

The NIOSH director always draws an appreciative audience at safety and health conferences. He urged the industrial hygienists to involve themselves in international standards and to prepare for new challenges.

INDIANAPOLIS –- NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard gave another riveting keynote speech June 19 and offered equally interesting answers during a Q&A session here at the 2012 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition. Howard, notable during his tenure at NIOSH for focusing on emerging hazards and big issues, discussed the demographic factors affecting workers and jobs around the world and large challenges.

Workers will be more precious, in the sense of being scarcer, as developing countries such as China and India transition to the same type of society now evident in Japan and the United States: fewer workers supporting more retired people. Up to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce may be working contingently, he said, adding that such workers are not recognized by traditional OSH mechanisms such as workers’ compensation. “Workers’ compensation may be losing its way, and we in the occupational safety and health industry need to have a voice in this transition” and to redouble efforts to prevent disability in the first place, he said.

Multinational employers and multinational OSH practitioners are increasing, and international standards such as GHS “may be our only future,” Howard said, contrasting them with national standards that are difficult or impossible to bring to completion.

“The world of risk information grows by leaps and bounds. That world must be at your fingertips,” he advised, adding that having expertise in exposure assessment involving chemicals and physical hazards may not be the essential capability for industrial hygienists throughout the 21st century.

During the Q&A after his speech, he said the lessons of the 9/11 attacks and response are clear for the OSH community: for large disasters with thousands of responders, OSH professionals must think of protecting those responders while they are happening. This could include deep perimeter control, such as the use of armed guards to prevent unauthorized intrusions, as well as chips attached to each responder to facilitate medical monitoring afterward and also real-time exposure assessment, he said.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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