A Millennial questions a career in industrial hygiene
The profession’s wide boundaries give it a new face
Leirah Jordan, a senior at St. Ursula Academy in Toledo, is considering a career in industrial hygiene and she asked to shadow or meet with me to learn about IH from a seasoned professional. I was curious to meet her. St. Ursula is not your run-of-the mill high school. SUA is a Catholic all-female college prep school founded in 1854.
To me, Leirah represents the future of IH. I wondered, “What does an intelligent HS senior, a Millennial, know about IH?”
One IH’s “limiting” experience
A week prior to Leirah’s request to meet, I met with Brian, a long-time friend and colleague. Brian’s full-time career in IH, safety and environmental work ends at year end when he takes retirement. Brian’s credentials include the MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM, etc. Brian worked at major corporations for nearly his entire career. He feels he has been underpaid and underappreciated for most of his career. The final indignity came just a few days before our meeting when Brian’s boss said he could retire at any time – the company didn’t plan to refill his job. Brian’s experience hints at the limits of IH.
Around this time, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene released a YouTube video that describes what a CIH does.1 The video is getting a few dislikes, probably from people who seek to constrain the boundaries of IH. Do CIHs really get involved with the health of family pets?
I strongly support the videos message from the diversity of the Avatars e.g. narrated by a woman, to yes, a CIH may consider the health of family pets – count me among the CIHs that has been there, done that with the pet thing.
No boundary examples
IH boundaries are limited to one’s thinking. Here are the examples I provided to Leirah to expand her view of IH:
• Pre-meeting question to Leirah – Sisters of Notre Dame Academy in Toledo and Sisters of St. Francis Academy in Toledo, faith-based schools similar to St. Ursula, signed the July, 2015, Ohio Family Values Compact2 that calls for a new law for Ohio, that if passed, will impact IH practice. See my faith-based column in September’s ISHN for more info. Question to Leirah: “Why did no one from SUA signed the compact?”
• U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, SUA graduate, was an original (June 2015) sponsor of H.R. 26543 that, if passed, will change IH practice at the federal level and influence IH practice for future Ohio law. I asked Leirah about her thoughts on these actions.
• Prior to SUA, Leirah attended another faith-based school in Toledo. Did she know why the school was closed in 2007 for eight months of “remodeling?” Everything in the K-12 school, including all the walls, were disposed of as “mercury contaminated waste.”4 I served as a CIH on the project. Perceptions of health and concerns for future liability may overrule current occupational and public health science.
• Leirah suggested we meet at Panera Bread near her home. Weeks earlier I used the food chain’s May, 2015, “no-no” list of chemical ingredients5 as an IH example during OSHA HazCom training. Should ethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze, be excluded from Panera’s food? Again, perceptions of health risk may or may not be based on current health science.
• I took out my iPhone and played the GESTIS6 game with Leirah. “Pick a letter, any letter. Scroll down the chemical list, pick any chemical. Up in the left-hand corner is the global GHS pictogram for the chemical. Related safety data needed is on the iPhone screen.” I asked Leirah what country created the free iPhone and Android app with 8,000+ chemical entries. She knew -- the app comes from Germany. Think global, act local. The chemical Leirah chose contained the hazard statement “may damage.” I asked, “If you or a loved-one is damaged because you handled the chemical, and the employer didn’t warn about possible damage, especially when the health information is readily available, how angry would you be?”
• Leirah mentioned an interest in law. As an IH in the corporate world with Aeroquip-Vickers (NYSE:ANV), I led a task force in 1996 to examine best legal practices; this created the Risk Identification & Prevention (RIP) section within ANV’s legal department. My IH job expanded to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control all risks, product liability and reputational risk – the whole gambit. ANV was recognized as IndustryWeek’s “World’s 100 Best-Managed Companies” in 1997 and 1998.7
Downside of IH
There was limited time to explain, but Leirah needed to understand some of the obstacles to IH progress. Brian was on my mind.
Brian is smart. He is loyal and obedient, shaped early by his military school training. His personality is a nose-to-the-grindstone and get-the-job-done person. Brian’s career DNA was not to change the world – just do the best he can where he could. Think local, act local. This doesn’t make him wrong. But an IH career is a chess game, and Brian served as a pawn. People often far less qualified than Brian influenced his fate, including the final indignity saying his job would not be filled after he retires. In this game of IH career chess, relentless don’t-rock-the-boat people can wear you down to accept the status quo.
Leirah’s Millennial world will witness faster IH change than what Baby Boomer leadership experienced. New hazards, even ones we cannot imagine now, will need to be anticipated, recognized, evaluated and controlled.
The IH objective allows IH to be a very broad field. It keeps people (and don’t forget the pets) healthy and safe in whatever environment -- home, work or play -- that they’re in. How that objective is met will ultimately be determined by each IH’s personality and career ambitions. There is no one best IH personality.