The history of the International Occupational Hygiene Association


Dr Thomas Fuller,  IOHA president-elect, e-mail:

Occupational hygiene is the discipline of anticipating, recognising, evaluating and controlling health hazards in the working environment with the objectives of protecting worker health and wellbeing, and safeguarding the community at large. The focus is on prevention of worker injuries and illnesses.

Representatives of 10 leading national occupational hygiene Associations gathered in Montreal, Canada, in 1987 to discuss the founding of the IOHA Photograph: unknown



In early April 1987, at the University of Nottingham, England, a group of 15 occupational hygienists from various countries met to discuss the creation of an international association of the profession. Under the leadership and vision of Dr Jeffrey Lee, a group of national professional associations, came together to exchange knowledge and advance the profession.

At this first meeting, the group agreed that the goals of the proposed association would be:

• To promote and develop occupational hygiene around the world

• To promote the exchange of occupational hygiene information among organisations and individuals

• To encourage and advance the development of the occupational hygiene profession

• To promote high standards of ethical practice in occupational hygiene

Shortly after this initial meeting, representatives from 10 of the leading national organisations met on 2 June 1987 in Montreal, Canada, to take the discussions forward. The group toasting the event is pictured opposite. During this meeting, it was also formally agreed that the name of the group should be the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA). Again under the guidance of Dr Lee, the aforementioned goals of the Association were formalised.

In April of 1988, the first board meeting of the IOHA was held in Nottingham, England. Representatives from several countries, representing different associations attended, and the first order of business was to elect Dr Lee as chair of the board. During this meeting, the first governance structure and guidelines for the Association were discussed, but it took an additional three years to finalise the details of how the organisation would work and to create the associated governance documents. The first official acceptance of the Association’s bylaws was signed into effect by the board in April 1989.



Professional organisations approved as members at the time of the board meeting in 1988 were:

• The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists

• The American Industrial Hygiene Association

• The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists

• The British Occupational Hygiene Society

• The Canadian Registration board for Occupational Hygienists

• The Dutch Occupational Hygiene Society

• The Finnish Occupational Hygiene Association

• The Institute for Occupational Hygienists

• The Italian Association of Industrial Hygienists

• The Swiss Occupational Hygienists Association

• The Swedish Industrial Hygienists Association

• The Swedish Occupational Hygiene Association

From its creation in 1987, the IOHA has grown to 36 member organisations (Table 1), representing more than 20 000 occupational hygienists worldwide. The IOHA continues to be an international voice of the occupational hygiene profession, through its recognition as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) by both the ILO (International Labour Organization) and, until recently, the WHO (World Health Organization).



Over the past 33 years, board meetings have been conducted in numerous member nations. They are typically held twice a year and, now, if board members cannot attend meetings in person, they have the option of participating via telephone or the Internet. An effort is always made to coincide the IOHA board meeting with national association-related professional conferences. This supports the profession in that country and shares knowledge as broadly as possible. Accordingly, the IOHA has also conducted international scientific conferences every two or three years in various regions over the past three decades. A list of past IOHA conferences and locations is provided in Table 2.



For several years, the IOHA has published a newsletter, up to three times per year. In 2004, the IOHA created a website ( to make information about the organisation available. Older newsletters are also available on the website, in addition to current scientific and other relevant information. For several years, a version of the IOHA newsletter, called the Global Exposure Manager (GEM), was published periodically in the Chemwatch Journal; however, since September 2019, the GEM has been published in the bimonthly issues of Occupational Health Southern Africa (OHSA). The GEM articles published in OHSA are also available on the IOHA website.



In 1997, the IOHA created a Lifetime Achievement Award; Jeffrey Lee (USA) was the first recipient. Since then, there have been seven additional awardees (see Table 3).

In 2018, the IOHA created the Collaboration Award to honour work between occupational hygiene organisations and other countries or organisations. This is a means to share ideas, promote occupational hygiene, and improve worker health worldwide. The first recipients of this award, in 2018, were the Brick Kiln Committee of Workplace Health Without Borders (WHWB) and the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI), through their joint work on hazards faced by brick kiln workers. They worked together to establish a Centre at Kathmandu University in Nepal to collect data on sampling, results of analysis, medical information, child labour, and hazardous exposures in brick kilns. Through this international database, researchers around the world can better co-ordinate information on health and safety issues in brick kilns. The Centre will provide valuable insights into working conditions and child labour in brick kilns, effective exposure measurement techniques, and solutions for controlling exposure and protecting worker health.

The IOHA has a permanent secretariat in South Africa and an executive committee consisting of a president, a president-elect, a past-president and a secretary/treasurer. Currently, these positions (in 2019–2020) are filled by Rene Leblanc (Canada), Thomas P Fuller (USA), Peter-John (Jakes) Jacobs (South Africa), and Ruth Jimenez (Spain).
Past-presidents of the IOHA constitute an impressive list of professionals in the field of occupational hygiene (see Table 4).

Each member association designates one person to serve on the board (the IOHA does not place a time limit on this position and prefers long-term appointments). The IOHA holds two board meetings a year and an international scientific conference every two to three years. The last IOHA conference took place in the USA in September 2018. The next conference will take place in Korea in October 2021.



The IOHA is working (via the ILO and, until recently, the WHO) to raise the profile of occupational hygiene worldwide, and to show that we can offer a cost-effective way to reduce the burden of illness and disease in workplaces. The IOHA also co-operates with other international organisations, such as the ICOH (International Commission on Occupational Health) and the IEA (International Ergonomics Association).

In recent years, the IOHA has entered into memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with a variety of affiliate organisations. In 2009, the IOHA created an MoU with the Occupational Hygiene Training Association (OHTA) to promote the development and implementation of a common international framework for occupational hygiene training. In 2018, the IOHA signed a five-year agreement with WHWB to share the common mission to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses. The MoU serves as a pledge that WHWB and the IOHA will work in partnership to maximise efforts to reach those in greatest need of occupational health, occupational hygiene, and occupational safety resources and services. This will aid progress towards the combined WHWB and IOHA vision, viz. ‘A world in which workers, their families, and communities do not get ill because of their work, and a safe and healthy working environment for all’. Also in 2018, the IOHA and the European Network of Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (ENETOSH) created an MoU of support and collaboration. This encourages the development of a culture of prevention related to occupational safety and health in Europe, and globally. The plan is to encourage worldwide collaboration on education and training in the field of occupational safety and health. Since the initial agreement, the IOHA and the ENETOSH have held several meetings and joint sessions at international conferences.



The IOHA’s mission is to enhance the international network of occupational hygiene associations that promotes, develops and improves occupational hygiene worldwide, providing a safe and healthy working environment for all. The strategic goals are:

1. To promote occupational hygiene

2. To improve occupational hygiene capabilities and practises

3. To enable effective networking and knowledge management

4. To provide robust governance

The IOHA is concerned that there appears to be a perception, in the developed world, that occupational health and safety issues have largely been resolved. The demand for undergraduate studies in occupational health is diminishing and several universities have stopped offering courses. At the same time, perhaps due to globalisation and the export of ‘dirty’ industries, the occupational health challenges facing economically-developing regions are increasing rapidly. The IOHA is addressing the need for occupational hygiene capacity through strong educational and training initiatives especially designed to transfer occupational hygiene knowledge and skills to where they are most needed.
Additional information regarding the IOHA organisation and its activities can found on the website (  Specific questions regarding IOHA history or this article can be directed to Thomas Fuller at


Email address
Forgot password?