(Approved and Adopted by the Board of Directors, September 17, 2000)
(Revised by the Board of Directors, February 8, 2007)
This policy and process on bias and potential conflicts of interest has been established and implemented to safeguard the integrity and credibility of ACGIH® programs and activities. It applies to the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees and other Working Groups. The Policy's general approach in defining and addressing bias and conflicts of interest has been modeled after that used by the National Academy of Sciences for its scientific study committees.1
The ACGIH® core purpose is to advance occupational and environmental health. ACGIH®, as a not-for-profit association, is a private organization that operates for public purposes. There is a fundamental obligation of those having decision-making authority within ACGIH® to act in the best interests of the organization and the public good, rather than in furtherance of personal interests or those of third parties.
Members of ACGIH® have an individual obligation for ethical professional practice. Industrial hygiene associations in the U.S. have adopted a common "Code of Professional Ethics."2 Canon 4 of the Code clearly establishes that avoidance of conflicts of interest is a basic principle of ethical practice: "Industrial Hygienists shall avoid circumstances where a compromise of professional judgment or conflict of interest may arise."
The bias and conflicts of interest policy is supported by other means of ensuring scientific accountability in the association's decision-making processes. ACGIH® exercises oversight and review of ad hoc committee and other working group appointments and has developed procedures for internal and external review of their recommendations. Each of these plays an important part in the protection of ACGIH®'s programs and activities from inappropriate influences.
About ACGIH® — Its Committee Process and Deliberations
Since its founding in 1938, ACGIH® has provided technical knowledge, advice and guidance on occupational health and safety in several different forms: written reports reflecting the professional opinion reached by committees of experts; symposia engaging large audiences in discussion of issues; proceedings from conferences and workshops; peer reviewed scientific manuscripts; and an array of educational publications.
Through the efforts of the committees, ACGIH® provides critical information and recommended practices to occupational and environmental health professionals. This history of sharing knowledge, based on careful study and independent judgment, has garnered international respect for ACGIH®. ACGIH® technical committees focus on a range of issues in occupational/environmental hazard assessment and control techniques (e.g., occupational exposure values for chemical substances and physical agents, biological exposure indices, bioaerosols, infectious agents, air sampling instruments, and industrial ventilation).
The ACGIH® committee process is characterized by the following:
- All members of the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees and other Working Groups serve in a voluntary capacity without compensation. Certain expenses, such as travel costs to attend meetings, may be reimbursed according to an established expense reimbursement policy.
- Members of the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees and other Working Groups serve as individuals and not as representatives of organizations or interest groups.
- The Board of Directors appoints committee members for terms that begin on January 1. Each year the Committee Chair makes recommendations to the Board on the addition, retention, and retirement of committee members. Other Working Groups are appointed as needed.
- Ad Hoc Committees and other Working Groups function under the authority of the Board of Directors. Ad Hoc Committees' and other Working Groups' actions are typically in the form of recommendations to the Board.
- No official action of the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups can be taken unless a quorum is present.
- Under current ACGIH® policy, a committee must maintain a simple majority of Regular members.
- The Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups are expected to be evenhanded and to examine all information dispassionately. One of their primary roles is to separate fact from opinion and analysis from advocacy. Scientific guidelines are essential in evaluating all arguments and alternatives.
- Members of the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups should strive for consensus, but not at the cost of substantially weakening their analyses and conclusions.
Bias and Conflict of Interest
The credibility of ACGIH® can be weakened if members of the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups are perceived as being biased. It is recognized that each individual who is knowledgeable about a subject brings his or her own biases and experiences to any study or committee effort. Therefore, a basic intent of this policy is to ensure that biases are balanced and that conflicts of interests are eliminated in ACGIH® decision-making processes.
A further intent of the policy is to provide the framework for a common understanding of what constitutes bias and conflict of interest. The identification of such influences inherently involves the application of judgment. It is to be expected that a range of perspectives and interpretations will be voiced in the review of specific situations or relationships and their possible effect on a member's objectivity. The following definitions, taken from the National Academy of Sciences, will be used as a starting point in discussions and determinations on potential bias and conflict of interest:
Bias is defined as views stated or positions taken that are largely intellectually motivated or arise from close identification or association of an individual with a particular point of view or the positions or perspectives of a particular group.
Conflict of interest is defined as any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of an individual because it could (1) impair the individual's objectivity, or (2) create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization.
The appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as damaging as the existence of a real conflict. An apparent conflict of interest arises when a reasonable person, with knowledge of the relevant facts, would question the impartiality of the individual in the matter being considered.
- Potential sources of bias and conflict of interest are significant issues that are taken into consideration in the selection of committee members and are re-examined periodically throughout their terms of service (see "ACGIH® Bias and Conflict of Interest Procedures").
Verbal and Written Disclosure Process
All members serving on the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups are required to acknowledge that this policy has been received and read. Further, this policy shall also apply to all consultants who serve on Ad Hoc Committees and Other Working Groups. All professional, consulting, and financial connections, as well as pertinent intellectual positions and public statements that could constitute conflict of interest or bias or which could be perceived to constitute conflict of interest or bias should be described in writing on the confidential form, "Potential Sources of Bias and Conflict of Interest - Disclosure" and orally declared to its respective group. Please complete the disclosure form (currently pages 7-8 and any additional pages as needed) and mail a printed copy of the completed forms, along with the signed Acknowledgement and Certification form (last page) to ACGIH® Headquarters, Attn: Executive Director (Personal & Confidential). In addition, these forms can be completed either electronically or printed off and completed.
These completed forms will be confidentially retained on file.
As part of the process of becoming acquainted with one another and with the specific tasks and projects to be undertaken during the year, the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees and Other Working Groups conduct an annual closed session discussion on bias and conflict of interest. The purpose of this session is to allow members to share questions and concerns they may have, and to identify any circumstance(s) or relationship(s) that could be viewed as a potential conflict of interest. This session also provides a regular opportunity to review and highlight those issues that are most relevant to the respective group's work.
Examples of the types of relationships that a member of the Board of Directors, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups should disclose are listed below. This is not a comprehensive list. Because interpretations can vary from person to person concerning what situations constitute a potential conflict of interest, it is important that these relationships be identified and discussed within the Board, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups. In each of the examples below, the member is asked to disclose only those relationships that have potential relevance to his or her own involvement in ACGIH® matters and decisions. Sometimes these relationships may apply to a relative or other close associate of the member and therefore be relevant to the member as well.
- Owner, employee, or paid consultant to an organization or corporation that could be impacted by an ACGIH® recommendation or practice guideline.
- Significant financial interests (e.g., investments, loans, liabilities, etc.) in an organization or corporation that could be impacted by an ACGIH® recommendation or practice guideline or with which ACGIH® does business. (Excluded financial interests include personal mortgages, personal loans for vehicles or other furnishings, saving/checking deposit accounts, publicly available mutual funds not concentrated in a specific industry or sector).
- Recipient of a grant, award, or contract from an organization or corporation that could be impacted by an ACGIH® recommendation or practice guideline.
- Serve as an expert witness in judicial or regulatory proceedings.
- Serve on advisory or review panels of private corporations or non-profit organizations.
- Serve as an officer or member of the Board of Directors or Committees for a trade group or an organization related to ACGIH®.
- Acceptance of gifts, entertainment, or other favors from any individual or organization that does, or is seeking to do business with ACGIH®, or may be impacted by ACGIH®.
If a potential conflict becomes apparent, a member may ask to be recused or may request to recuse his or herself from participation on specific matters or issues before the Board of Directors
, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups (e.g., not participate in discussion or not vote or author documents). For more severe or extensive conflicts, the member may be requested to resign from the Board of Directors
, Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups. Failure to disclose a relevant conflict of interest will result in dismissal from the Board of Directors
, Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group. In some circumstances, an individual may continue to participate on the Board of Directors
, Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group if the conflict of interest is promptly disclosed, and the Board of Directors
has determined that the conflict is not relevant to the issues considered by the Board of Directors
, Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group, as determined. When a question of balance arises, the usual procedure is to add members to the Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group to achieve the appropriate balance.
Special Issues for Committees Involved in Risk Assessments
Most ACGIH® technical committees are involved in some aspect of assessing occupational risk or hazard. Many times, recommendations for risk management must be made when the available scientific information is incomplete or inconclusive. In these situations, it is essential that there is a clear and traceable path from the application of sound judgment, scientific principles, and assumptions to the committees' conclusions and recommendations. Committees may establish additional procedures, approved by the Board of Directors, to address specific bias and conflict of interest issues within their operations.
Of all ACGIH® committees, there are a few in which human health risk assessment is at the core of their activities – Threshold Limit Values for Chemical Substances (TLV®-CS) Committee, Threshold Limit Values for Physical Agents (TLV®-PA) Committee, and the Biological Exposure Indices (BEI®) Committee. These committees must constantly evaluate incomplete or inconclusive data, and the collective experience and reasoned judgment of committee members become crucial factors in developing conclusions and recommendations. Conclusions based on scientific evidence and those based on informed judgment must be clearly distinguished. Special care is needed to explain how the committees arrived at their conclusions and any assumptions used should be explicitly identified and justified. These aspects of the committees' deliberations are explicitly described in the ACGIH® publication "Documentation of the TLVs® and BEIs®."
The committees that develop TLVs® and BEIs® employ a process that involves review of their proposed occupational exposure criteria by the public and scientific peers. New and revised TLVs®/BEIs® are published on a list giving "Notice of Intended Changes" (NIC).3 Proposed values are placed on the NIC list for approximately one year or longer to solicit any new information that may have a bearing on their appropriateness. This step in the process provides an important mechanism for ensuring the committees' findings are objective, balanced and based on all available information that is scientifically valid.
Confidentiality and Public Access
Procedures and practices have been developed to protect Ad Hoc Committees or Other Working Groups from outside pressures and thereby safeguard the credibility and integrity of their work. Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group meetings, particularly as the group gathers information, may include invited individuals who are not members of the Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group. However, meetings are closed when the group is deliberating to develop its findings or when discussing financial and personnel matters. Closed meetings are not open to the public or to any person who is not an Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group member, consultant or an official, agent, or employee of ACGIH®.
Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group reports and recommendations are the product of ACGIH® and not of the group alone or individual group members. Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group deliberations, drafts of documents, tentative conclusions – all are confidential until approved or ratified by the Board of Directors, in compliance with the ACGIH® Information Release Policy. Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group members are expected to treat their respective group's deliberations and draft products as confidential. Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group members should refer public requests for information to the headquarters staff, in compliance with the ACGIH® Public Affairs and Communication Policy.
Role of Staff
Each Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group is assisted in its work by qualified staff members who provide a variety of services. The overall staff role is to help create an objective and productive atmosphere in which deliberations can take place.
Examples of the services staff provide include coordinating meeting arrangements, record keeping, drafting meeting minutes, distributing meeting materials, and fielding inquiries from the public. In addition, staff ensures that ACGIH® procedures and practices are followed, and that the group stays on schedule and within budget.
Staff members can also assist with the many aspects of the group's research and editorial activities, including researching, writing, integrating portions written by others, and ensuring consistent style and format. However, the conclusions and recommendations are those of the group. Staff does not insert its personal views into the group's conclusions or recommendations.
1National Academy of Sciences. "Getting to Know the Committee Process". February, 1998.
2Code of Ethics for the Practice of Industrial Hygiene. Adopted by ACGIH®, AIHA, AAIH, and ABIH.
3The Notice of Intended Changes is published annually in the TLVs® and BEIs® Book, in the ACGIH® newsletter Today! Online, and on the ACGIH® website (acgih.org).
ACGIH® Bias and Conflict of Interest Procedures
For the Board of Directors:
Declare both orally and describe in writing "Potential Sources of Bias and Conflict of Interest" during their term as a Director or Officer by participating in a closed session discussion at a convened Board Meeting that is conducted at least annually and completing the written ACGIH® Disclosure form.
Voluntarily and immediately disclose to the Board of Directors any circumstance or relationship that could be a real or apparent conflict of interest.
Questions on an individual board member's real or apparent conflict of interest will be referred to the Board Chair for resolution.
For Ad Hoc Committee and Other Working Group Chairs:
Declare both orally and describe in writing "Potential Sources of Bias and Conflict of Interest" during their term as Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group Chair.
Conduct a closed session discussion by the entire committee at least annually and completing the written ACGIH® Disclosure form and ensure all committee members participate.
Voluntarily and immediately disclose to the Board of Directors any circumstance or relationship that could be a real or apparent conflict of interest.
Questions on an Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group Chair's real or apparent conflict of interest will be referred to the Board of Directors for resolution.
For Ad Hoc Committee and Other Working Group Members and Consultants (including additional or supplemental publication authors):
Declare orally and describe in writing "Potential Sources of Bias and Conflict of Interest" during their term as an Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group member or a consultant by participating in a closed session discussion by the entire group that is conducted at least annually and completing the written ACGIH® Disclosure form.
Voluntarily and immediately disclose to the Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group Chair any circumstance or relationship that could be a real or apparent conflict of interest.
Questions on an Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group member's or consultant's real or apparent conflict of interest will be referred to the respective Chair for resolution.
Adhere to any supplemental bias and conflict of interest procedures established for the Ad Hoc Committee or Other Working Group.