This featured piece is a collaboration between the AIHA SECP and the AIHA Hazard Prevention and Engineering Controls Committee (HPECC) and is a chance for SECP members to hear from practicing IHs about their experiences in the field.
This quarter’s newsletter features Geoffrey Braybrooke, CIH and Christine Baker, CIH, CSP, PMP.
What type of business is your employer and what types of industrial processes do you survey as their IH?
Geoffrey: I work for the Army Public Health Center. My Division assesses chemical, thermal, and noise hazards for the Army heavy industrial base and for military unique exposures such as those of armored vehicle crews.
Christine: I am involved with consulting for military, local governments, private industry, and international health care organizations. I typically evaluate how OEH professionals execute their occupational health programs. Additionally, I assist organizations in improving their emergency preparedness capabilities through plans, gaps analyses, equipment selection, training, etc.
What do you think is unique/interesting about where you work and the type of IH work you do there?
Geoffrey: Aside from the full range of industrial processes, the wide variety of Army weapon and soldier support systems provides an ongoing learning experience; we have the chance to specialize somewhat in expertise in specific types of hazards such as toxic metals.
Christine: As a consultant, I will rarely work on the same process or project for more than a year. Sometimes I only get to work on a process for one week. One unique aspect of the consulting work that I do is that I am able to collect best practices from a wide range of customers and share these with others.
How and why did you get involved with this type of IH work?
Geoffrey: This discipline was my first job as an industrial hygienist and proved to be an interesting and challenging work environment.
Christine: After completing my bachelor’s degree in environmental chemistry, but before starting the Peace Corps, I convinced the Portland (OR) Fire Department HAZMAT Coordinator to let me intern there. During this internship time, I asked a dozen people what master’s degree I should pursue and which one would give me the most opportunities down the road. A few individuals that I asked suggested industrial hygiene. My reply to them was, “Great, I’ll do it. What is it?”
What types of hazards do you typically see doing IH where you work?
Geoffrey: The most common hazards that I assess are toxic gases and metals produced by firing weapons; toxic gases and particulate from metalworking and coating processes.
Christine: I see all types of hazards in my line of work, but I wanted to point out something else that I have noticed. I caution those IH staff members and technicians to continue to self-develop. During my day to day operations, I have noticed IH staff members that have become conditioned to fill out boxes and forms. We don’t want to be the Occupational Health and Safety professionals that turn their brains off with respect to evaluating the quality of data or how appropriate it is for the situation. An example I want to share would be: Let’s say you’re are evaluating a noise exposure on a mechanic and you notice a 140 dBA exposure within the first ten seconds of that noise dosimetry sample. A seasoned IH would recognize that this probably is not generated from work in that mechanic’s shop and is most likely from the cover being pulled off the dosimeter’s microphone. This is an example of the specialized knowledge, skills, and ability’s that we develop from field experience, being mentored, continuing education, and years of experience practicing.
What types of controls do you typically see/evaluate doing IH where you work?
Geoffrey: Most of the controls that I see during day to day operations are Industrial ventilation, respiratory protection, and hygienic and housekeeping procedures.
Christine: In my normal day to day work, I will typically see PPE… PPE… PPE… and training.
What do you consider are the biggest challenges for an IH where you work?
Geoffrey: My Division serves the entire Army and it is sometimes difficult to exchange information with industrial hygienists at the installation level who are doing most of the routine IH work for that location.
Christine: A big challenge in my field of industrial hygiene practice is the ebb and flow of contracts. Sometimes your company has way too much work. Sometimes you have to lay people off.
What are some examples of common recommendations you make doing IH where you work?
Geoffrey: I frequently provide recommendations for engineering controls and use of respiratory protection. I also make recommendations to develop and maintain written compliance programs that cover the full range of control measures for specific hazards.
Christine: The recommendations I make typically are in the context of evaluating the work of organizations’ OEH professionals.
– Just because reports and other communications might be technically correct, if the customer cannot understand what is being said and do something with the information, then it was all for naught.
– There is no “done” when it comes to improving written communications.