Seventy Years and Counting
On June 6, 1939, during the annual conference of the American Association of
Industrial Physicians and Surgeons
(AAIPS), a group of non-physician members of AAIPS held the first meeting of a
new organization for industrial hygienists.
Calling itself the American Industrial
Hygiene Association, the group approved
an interim constitution and elected
William Yant, Warren A. Cook, and Gordon A. Harrold as its first officers.
As told by George and Florence Clayton
in The American Industrial Hygiene As-
sociation: Its History and Personalities,
1939–1990, Gordon Harrold had earlier
identified the four major goals of the
• Advance industrial hygiene through
dissemination of technical knowledge.
• Further study and control industrial
health hazards through elimination of
• Organize activities for industrial hygienists.
• Unite people with an interest in industrial hygiene.
So much has changed in the seventy
years since that initial meeting. Exactly
five years later, the date June 6 became
forever known to history as D-Day. The
AAIPS, which offered AIHA’s founders
so much support and encouragement, is
now the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
(ACOEM). Today’s workers face a host of
occupational health threats such as
nanomaterials, IAQ, and thousands of
new chemicals that Yant, Cook, Harrold
and their contemporaries could only
imagine. Technology has influenced our
practice in countless ways.
Yet in many ways, AIHA is still the
same organization its founders created
seventy years ago. Our tagline, Protecting Worker Health®, expresses the professionalism and dedication to workers
that animated the goals Mr. Harrold
communicated in 1939. I imagine that
Harrold, Yant, Warren and other
founders would be happy to know that
the organization they started was thriving seventy years later and that its core
values remain closely tied to AIHA’s
Success and Growth
Today, AIHA remains an organization
dedicated to advancing the profession,
educating our members, and protecting
workers. Our success is measured not
only in membership—from approximately
300 U.S. industrial hygienists in 1939,
our numbers currently exceed ten thousand—but in the immeasurable dedication
of our volunteer groups and committees.
The goals Mr. Harrold expressed are still
the backbone of our organization, but
volunteers are its heart and its soul.
The growth of AIHA is the growth of
our volunteers. AIHA established its first
four technical committees—air pollution,
analytical chemistry, noise, and radiation—in 1955; today, 50 committees and
working groups carry out the work of
the association in areas ranging from
aerosol technology to workplace environmental exposure levels. I have no
doubt that our founders, if they could
see us today, would admire and applaud
the sheer breadth of our volunteers’ expertise, and would feel justifiably proud
that their organization could accommodate such a range of interests in the
name of worker protection.
Throughout the history of our profession, industrial hygienists have striven
for an impossible goal: the elimination
of workplace illnesses and fatalities.
Because workers will always need protection, there will always be a need for
industrial hygienists—and for an organization to support them.
Today’s AIHA has its challenges, of
course; the historic economic collapse
that has touched so many of our members has forced us to reevaluate our priorities and reset our goals. The AIHA
Board of Directors is meeting that challenge head-on and working to place
AIHA in the best possible circumstances
to continue the work our founders
began. In the coming months, the Board
will adopt a new five-year strategic plan,
adding to the foundation laid in 1939
and expanded many times since.
Seventy years from now, future AIHA
leaders will probably once again measure
their association against the vision of our
founders. I suspect those future leaders
will find in AIHA what I’ve found: a community of professionals dedicated to protecting workers and furthering the art and
science of industrial hygiene. Maybe
they’ll even come across this article in
The Synergist archives. If so, I wish them
continued success. And to all AIHA members—past, present, and future—I wish a
happy anniversary, and many more.