Industrial hygiene is a term designed to evoke a simple view of what the practice means. However, it comes from a time when the words had a different interpretation to them. Industrial seems clear enough - practicing in a work or factory setting, but even that gets blurred these days when defining a problem in an office setting. Hygiene comes from the area of practice relating to cleanliness, sanitation, or health. Therefore, as initially determined, an Industrial Hygienist (IH) is a professional who is dedicated to the health and well-being of the worker. Typically, this would have an IH evaluating the health effects of chemicals or noise in a work place. This has been expanded a bit by the changing of our society from an industrial/agricultural base to more of a service economy to address issues of productivity. It also now relates to an expansion of workplace to areas of the community outside the traditional place of employment.

The IH professional traditionally has gained knowledge by some combination of education, training, and experience. Ideally, this knowledge is used to anticipate when a hazardous condition could occur to cause an adverse health effect on a worker or the environment. Failing that, the IH must be able to recognize conditions that could lead to adverse health effects to workers or a community population. Still, there would be no real meaning to defining hazards if an evaluation of the probability and severity of a recognized adverse effect and some realistic control means would not be forthcoming to remove or reduce the impact of the situation.

Traditionally, since the term "industrial hygienist" has not been restricted by law, anyone who feels they have some capability to act in the realm of advising on the health and well-being of workers could label themselves as an Industrial Hygienist. They may be newly installed in an organizational position calling for such knowledge, therefore, by default, they become an Industrial Hygienist. One can always push to gain the necessary knowledge to function effectively, but there is still some doubt as to how to demonstrate that "competence" to the outside world. In the mid-1950's, a group of Industrial Hygienists from a national organization recommended that a voluntary certification program be established for industrial hygiene practitioners. In 1960, an independent corporation was established from the two national membership organizations, AIHA and ACGIH, to establish a national examination process to certify a minimum level of knowledge and skills in industrial hygiene.

Because the program was voluntary, it did not restrict the practice of individuals calling themselves industrial hygienists. Indeed, today there are many competent persons practicing the profession of industrial hygiene who have not sought certification. However, the program has, since its establishment, shown itself to be a hallmark of achievement that provides an indicator of success in the field. It measures to a defined standard the knowledge and skills of a practicing Industrial Hygienists in three performance domains, or areas of responsibility, and eight content domains, or technical areas, of practice.

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