Occupational Health Review Dossier

US hygienists rebuff attack on their profession

The British Occupational Hygiene Society1 has welcomed a US federal court ruling in favour of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) that ends a four-year legal action by US chemical and mining firms against the US exposure limit‑setting body.

Three industry bodies had objected to publication of a number of ACGIH threshold limit values (TLVs) relating to their products, claiming that they were “false and deceptive because they are not supported by credible science,” and that “they disparage the [chemical and mining firms’] goods, services or business by false or misleading representation of fact.”

On 6 May, a federal District Court in Georgia dismissed the last of four counts of the lawsuit against ACGIH, earlier counts having been dismissed in March 2005. The last remaining count sought to prevent ACGIH from publishing its TLVs, which have provided the technical basis of many national occupational exposure limits regimes, including those in the UK, since the 1960s.

Although the lawsuit was directed against the TLV exposure limits published by ACGIH, it was seen by the ACGIH as an attack on the whole profession of industrial hygiene and an attempt to weaken its scientific authority.

In its ruling, the court stated that “ACGIH, a non-profit association comprised of a group of scientists that adopts workplace safety exposure levels, is more like an entity designed to promote ideas than one that engages in deceptive advertising in an effort to derive a financial benefit.”

The chair of the ACGIH board of directors, Lawrence Gibbs, said: “This ruling confirms our long-held position that ACGIH has the right to publish its scientific opinions that help provide for a safer workplace. Occupational and environmental health professionals need to know they can rely on the information and guidance provided by ACGIH. After almost four years of enormous expenditure of ACGIH financial and human resources in defending against this litigation, we view this as great news for the association’s members, for the continued freedom of expression of scientific opinion, and for the entire occupational and environmental health profession.”

Gibbs said the judgment was a critical victory for occupational hygiene and reaffirmed the importance of science underpinning exposure limits. “We must continue to be vigilant against such directed actions that can, ultimately, decrease the health and safety protection of workers in the occupational environment.”

The lawsuit was brought against the association by the International Brominated Solvents Association, the National Mining Association, Aerosafe Products Inc. and Anchor Glass Container Products Inc. The trade bodies disputed the adoption and implementation of ACGIH threshold limit values for four chemical substances: silica, copper, n-propyl bromide and diesel particulate matter.

The full judgment can be downloaded from ACGIH’s website.

1 The British Occupational Hygiene Society e-bulletin, May 2008

Demand grows for specialist OH advice

An increasing trend towards use of specialist occupational health services – rather than local GPs or NHS services – was recorded by the sixth annual EEF sickness absence survey, published in May1. The EEF’s 2008 report notes “a continuing trend away from local GP providers and local NHS providers towards specialist OH provision for companies that outsource their occupational health”, which the report says may reflect “a growing understanding of the specialist nature of OH and a greater recognition of the expertise of occupational health specialists”.

The survey found that over the two-year period 2005 to 2007, use of specialist external occupational health services by EEF member companies grew from 62% of the total to 66%, while use of local GPs declined from 16% to 14% and use of NHS OH units from 14% to 11% of member companies (see table).

Use of specialist services was nevertheless largely confined to larger organisations, with 66% of employers with fewer than 50 employees having no provision while only 6% of companies with more than 500 employees had no provision.

The main focus of the 2008 survey report, co-sponsored for the first time by disability insurer Unum, was the cost to British manufacturing employers of their failure to achieve effective rehabilitation of employees. The major barriers to rehabilitation that most affected sickness absence rates were identified as “misconceptions about the effect of the employee’s health condition”, “employee resistance to rehabilitation”, “the role of general practitioners in promoting rehabilitation” and “concern about employees being protected under the Disability Discrimination Act”.

1 Sickness absence and rehabilitation survey 2008, EEF, £20

HIV/AIDS international labour standard

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has published an international analysis of law and practice related to HIV/AIDS at work in preparation for the planned discussion and adoption of a new recommendation or standard to be put forward at ILO’s 2009 conference1.

Next year’s 98th Session (2009) Annual International Labour Conference is expected to tackle the variable implementation of the existing voluntary ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS adopted in 2001.

The ILO’s new international standard would include a requirement for a single national AIDS body to operate in each member country and for effective monitoring schemes to be established, generating comparable data. The standard would also clarify responsibilities and roles of the state and social partners in respect of treatment, care and support, and minimum requirements for disability discrimination legislation.

1 HIV/AIDS and the world of work, fourth item on the agenda, ILO, ISBN 978 92 2 220640 7 and ISSN 0251 3218

Updated RIDDOR guidance published

The Health and Safety Executive has published revised guidance on legal requirements relating to the reporting of major injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences at work1.

Although there have been no changes in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations themselves (the Health and Safety Commission rejected a proposal to repeal the requirements relating to occupational diseases in 2006), the third edition updates the existing version of the same document. For example, it takes account of changes in reporting arrangements (such as the need to use the HSE’s Incident Contact Centre) and changes to other Regulations including the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations and statutory requirements relating to pressure equipment and dangerous goods transport.

1 A guide to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, HSE Books (L73, 3rd edition), 83 pages, £11.95, ISBN 978 07 1 766290 6, HSE Books

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