Big Data in EHS
The AIHA Rocky Mountain Local Section and the ASSP Colorado Chapter recently hosted a two-day workshop on Big Data in the EHS field. The workshop brought together a diverse set of people with interest and passion in the topic, including EHS professionals and data scientists. By the end of the workshop, three areas of need for the industrial hygiene community were apparent:
- Education. It was clear that industrial hygienists need the knowledge and skills to effectively leverage Big Data concepts for the improvement of environmental health and safety. In the near term, the development of skills related to Big Data may take the form of course offerings through AIHA (such as webinars, PDCs, workshops, and conference presentations). In the long term, it seems prudent for AIHA to develop a body of knowledge in conjunction with allied professionals to provide a roadmap for additional educational content. Finally, collaboration with academic representatives to introduce data analytics into university programs could help prepare future hygienists for collaborations that involve use of Big Data.
- Standardization. The presentations by data scientists and researchers clarified the importance of collecting data in a manner that supports data quality and efficient integration of industrial hygiene data with that of other professionals. Issues regarding the quality of new sensors hitting the market and how to assess them were raised, both in the context of third-party certification as well as field validation. It also emerged that the industrial hygiene profession may benefit from standardization around the type and format of data collected, so that our data can be easily integrated with those of others and contribute to bigger-picture decision making.
- Integration. The future of decision making will involve combining data from across a spectrum of professions. If industrial hygiene data is to have an influence in this mix, hygienists must collaborate and champion this integration, possibly by sharing a case study about the uses of IH data, developing collaborative databases, or engaging in NIOSH’s Total Worker Health initiatives and exposome development groups.
Overall, the future of a world of integrated data and the need for industrial hygienists to engage with this world were clear. Without vigorous engagement from IHs, either industrial hygiene data will not be used in decision making or others will become the champions for how it is used. Big Data is the future, but now is the time to act.