Bioterrorism is a newly common word in the American vocabulary. But for this group of professionals it is just another wrinkle in their work to protect workers and the community. Industrial hygienists and other occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) professionals are renewing their efforts to protect against a threat that has taken on new significance. In early June, nearly 10,000 industrial hygienists and OEHS professionals will converge on San Diego for the American Industrial Hygiene conference and exposition (AIHce).
``This has always been a topic of awareness for OEHS professionals, but interest has really grown this year,'' said Richard A. Strano, executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). ``There is tremendous interest in educational sessions about industrial hygiene involvement after 9/11 and cleanup if another attack occurs. The fact that AIHce will be in San Diego -- close to military bases and defense agencies -- allows us to provide enhanced educational opportunities for OEHS professionals to learn what they can do to protect their workplaces and communities.''
Educational sessions at the conference will inform OEHS professionals about industrial hygienists' clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and post offices. Other sessions will detail personal protective equipment for chemical-biological attacks, protecting clean-up workers after an attack and assessing the risk of an attack on an industry. There will be a demonstration of the equipment required for response to an attack with pre- staged dummies showing the use of treatment equipment in the triage and decontamination process. Exhibits will include a decontamination tent identical to the one the FBI requested in Salt Lake City in case of an attack at the Winter Olympics.
``Many people are unfamiliar with what industrial hygienists do,'' said Henry B. Lick, president of AIHA. ``When you saw rescue workers in New York and Virginia wearing respirators and protective gear that looked like space suits, you saw industrial hygiene at work. When postal workers became ill from anthrax-laced and irradiated mail, industrial hygienists were called in to solve the problems. Industrial hygiene and OEHS are about protecting workers and individuals at home and at work, whether that work is in an office or a factory. Biological and chemical terrorism prevention and clean up is a small part of what we do -- but that part is growing in visibility as the war on terrorism continues.''
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), founded in 1939, is the world's largest association of occupational and environmental health and safety professionals, and its members play an important role on the front line of worker health and safety. The 12,000 members come from government, labor, industry, academia and private business. AIHA is the most diverse professional association dedicated solely to the prevention of workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.