A Conversation with ACGIH: Navigating Emerging Challenges in Industrial Hygiene – Part II

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An interview with ACGIH, a 501(c)(3) charitable scientific organization that advances occupational and environmental health. 

In part 1 of our interview with the ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists), we learned a little more about the 85+ year Ohio-based non-profit organization, their popular TLV-BEI booklet, new areas of research, and some notable changes to the TLVs and BEIs industrial hygienists can look forward to in 2024. 

In part 2, Sean Baldry, Director of Product Marketing at Cority continues the discussion with Phillip Rauscher, MPH, CIH, CSP, Interim Executive Director at ACGIH, to discuss how the organization works with industrial hygienists and other EHS and HR professionals across industry sectors to reduce the risks posed by occupational exposures to potentially harmful physical, chemical, and biological agents.  

Read on to learn: 

  • Emerging challenges organizations or industrial hygienists should be paying attention to 
  • How organizations can navigate the challenges created by limited industrial hygiene experts within their ranks 
  • What is advancing the industrial hygiene profession and what to consider in 2024 

Industrial Hygiene Regulations

Sean Baldry (SB): Picking up from where we left off, from ACGIH’s perspective, what are the emerging issues organizations or industrial hygienists are focusing on or paying attention to? 

Phillip Rauscher (PR): One that comes to the top of my mind, and that I think every IH is keeping their eyes on, is heat stress. Extreme heat has been a prescient issue across the globe in 2023, if not over the past few years. 

Right now, there are a number of state-level plans in the U.S. that have incorporated their own heat stress standards. However, if a business has operations across multiple states, those standards will not always match up, creating a real challenge for organizations in knowing what temperature requires additional measures to reduce the risks of heat stress in different locations. 

Federal OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has also issued its own National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat stress, which requires the involvement from several layers of government, and often leads to a lot of different conclusions, enforcement actions, and court cases. 

In light of this growing issue, the ACGIH’s Physical Agents Committee has worked to help define what a good heat stress program looks like. The next stage includes the development of a user guide. The guide will pull from our TLVs to further define what should be in an organization’s health stress program.   

We’re hoping these actions will encourage organizations to implement a heat stress management program voluntarily and start actively working to reduce heat exposures long before the work to finalize a federal regulation is possible. 

Another evolving situation I think we will want to keep our eye out for are the New Chemical Exposure Limits (NECLs) and Existing Chemical Exposure Limits (ECELs) coming out shortly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

The EPA’s NECLs and ECELs set performance criteria for sampling and analytical methods, periodic monitoring, respiratory protection, and recordkeeping requirements pertaining to substance governed under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In other words, the EPA is currently setting new thresholds for how much of a specific TCSA substance an individual can be exposed to at work. Therefore, while OSHA will administer and enforce these regulations, the EPA is developing them. With this, we can anticipate some notable changes in how the EPA approaches setting limits, and what it expects with respect to ventilation, when compared to OSHA. 

SB: Does ACGIH actively work with regulators like OSHA to inform these standards and processes or even some of the proposed regulations? 

PR: As a 501C3 non-profit, ACGIH is forced to tow a very careful line, and as such, we don’t have that kind of relationship with the U.S. government. By comparison, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has a direct link with lobbyists to advocate on behalf of the industrial hygiene profession. As a nonprofit, we can educate, but we can’t really lobby. So that’s the role that we embrace. 

To give you an example of how this works in practice: some time ago, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) asked us to help as they were creating new silica standards for the mining sector. We were able to share industrial hygiene documentation and research outcomes we had previously put together as reference materials, but that’s where our relationship with the agency stopped.  

We’re not wining and dining anybody in the House to come up with a new bill. Instead, we’re trying to push the whole field forward, and as people who are pushing the whole field, we can (and do) have a ripple effect. 

SB: Can you explain the relationship between ACGIH and the AIHA? 

PR: I have a great relationship with Larry Sloan, CEO of AIHA. Our organizations are actively working together on a number of projects. The one I’m most excited about is the exposure assessment strategies group. 

A big change we’re trying to push out into the field involves using data analytics to help industrial hygienists and EHS professionals make smarter decisions. Industrial hygienists need to know when employees are over the TLV for a specific agent of concern, and the reasons for that over-exceedance. If they are relying on a small dataset, it may indicate that employees are currently below the limit. But it doesn’t mean they will always be under. When working with the AIHA, we suggest hygienists adopt the next level of statistical analysis so they can know, with increasing certainty, where exposures are at any given time and can take more immediate and targeted action.

We’re also working with AIHA to discuss how our organizations can push for funding of IH graduate programs to ensure we’re getting more individuals into the field, equipped with the right technical knowledge to solve hygiene problems of the 21st century. 

SB: We’re seeing fewer industrial hygienists within corporate EHS departments. How should companies support EHS generalists who are now responsible for traditional IH functions?

PR: There’s a time and a place to have a PhD in industrial hygiene. But not everybody needs that. You don’t always need to identify as an industrial hygienist to do industrial hygiene. 

In some small and medium sized businesses, it’s common for a safety manager or even a HR professional to oversee an entire EHS program. Consequently, those individuals will need to know how to manage a variety of EHS programs. 

Let’s use an example of a hearing conservation program.In this example, these professionals will need to understand what goes into a hearing conservation program, what they should be looking for, or even know just enough to have a conversation with a hygiene consultant who may be carrying out their in-field sampling. There are also suppliers and tools out there that can help – rental equipment companies, YouTube videos, environmental specialists – you don’t need to spend a lot of money per hour for somebody to come to your site and perform industrial hygiene tasks unless there’s some complexity to the problem. 

With respect to ACGIH, we regularly hold training courses to ensure individuals have the fundamental knowledge needed to navigate the industrial hygiene space with ease.

Next year, we will be holding courses on noise control and the fundamentals of ventilation, in part to make these topics appear less scary to both generalists as well as certified safety professionals, and to give them the confidence to address hygiene programs with greater effectiveness.

At ACGIH, we’re trying to enable folks to have the confidence to at least identify the challenge and start the conversation, essentially bridging the gap in knowledge between themselves and traditional IH experts.

The Role of Technology in Industrial Hygiene

SB: How do you see technology and software playing a role in advancing the industrial hygiene profession and providing EHS professionals with making better decisions in the field? 

PR: One of the clearest benefits technology adoption brings to the industrial hygiene profession is better sampling and data collection. 

With recent advancements in technology and IH software, hygienists can now monitor all day long and know, at a glance, what’s happened everywhere. Armed with more real-time monitoring data, we’re seeing a decrease in the guessing games that we’ve always played by taking a one-off sample and trying to make an informed inference from the data. With technology providing better data and more robust analytics, we’re now able to paint a much larger and more complete picture of what’s happening with respect to industrial hygiene exposures moment-by-moment.   

For instance – when a software application can communicate directly with in-field sampling monitors, it can alert hygienists and say, “Check out this red flag over here. The ventilation pressure has dropped and you better look at what’s going on”. Or, “We noticed on this sensor that your benzene level was elevated, and you need to investigate”. Those immediate insights and recommendations are huge and impactful for teams with limited resources or even limited IH expertise. Technology can guide individuals to the items that are most important or need the most immediate attention. 

And as the use of AI grows, it will continue to make these software applications more user friendly, enabling the average EHS person to more effectively and confidently manage their industrial hygiene program. It could be as simple as typing a question into a ChatGPT-like engine and getting some guidance on what to do next. 

As technology gets cheaper and more plentiful, these types of solutions will offer great guidance for the average safety person, and they won’t feel so daunted by industrial hygiene tasks, or feel they need to know how to navigate the exposure assessment strategies text that’s four inches thick. 

Technology will make industrial hygiene simpler, more actionable, and more accessible to individuals across the organization. 

SB: How is ACGIH working with software vendors like Cority to enable a more accessible and understandable approach to industrial hygiene that you’ve been talking about?

PR: One of the keys we’re built on is the TLV. We want to drive and help set those thresholds based on the education and science we have pulled directly from the field. We are there to help arm IH professionals with the information necessary to make educated decisions on IH matters based on the comparison numbers and data.

AIHA, on the other side, is always pushing that next level of industrial hygiene analytics.So really, that partnership with AIHA on the exposure assessments comes back. We want to normalize the information and provide access to the information for the end user and enable them to understand what we’re hoping to normalize. For example, say the end user is an HR professional that took a stats course 20 years ago – we want them to be able to say they are 95% confident they are under the 95th percentile. They don’t need to know all the stats that go into it. We’re simply trying to normalize.

And a lot of this is laying that base work for people to keep building on and it’s cool to have partnerships like ours because Cority has the expertise on how to make everything user friendly. Cority has the experience to take that big data and make it something that’s interpretable like a human being and not a robot.

As I mentioned earlier, we (ACGIH) want to drive better awareness, education, and access to our science-based standards and guidance materials so organizations know how to effectively manage their industrial hygiene risks. We want to help arm IH professionals with the information necessary to make educated decisions on IH matters based on the comparison numbers and data. And that starts with the TLVs.

By partnering with software vendors like Cority, we can give organizations easier access to credible information against which they can compare their field-level samples to determine exposures and what do to next. Cority helps us make the data within the TLVs more accessible and user-friendly, since we can have the software pop up the TLV when it’s needed, and eliminate users having to scroll through the booklet, searching for the right information. Moreover, vendors like Cority have expertise in how best to curate and visualize big data and present it in a way that is interpretable and actionable by a human being. That’s huge.

Final Thoughts

In part 2 of our interview series with ACGIH, we explored their collaboration with industrial hygienists, as well as EHS and HR professionals from various industry sectors, in mitigating the hazards associated with potential exposure to harmful physical, chemical, and biological substances in the workplace. 

But how does this benefit industrial hygienists overall? 

While ACGIH is delving into emerging challenges and focusing on education to help bridge the knowledge gap for EHS professionals, Cority is revolutionizing industrial hygiene by providing the technology behind real-time monitoring and easy-to-use software, making it accessible and actionable. Together they make data and TLVs more user-friendly, ultimately enhancing decision making in IH.

Check out part 1 of our interview with ACGIH to learn how you can get involved or learn more.