#IAmIH: Samuel Paik, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Editor’s note: The “I Am IH” series of blog posts stems from AIHA’s #IAmIH project, which seeks to highlight the people behind the industrial hygiene profession. These posts feature Q&As with IHs from across the U.S. More information about #IAmIH is available on AIHA’s website.
What inspired you to enter the profession?
My father was an industrial hygienist for an environmental consulting company when I was growing up in a suburb of Detroit. I remember him calibrating sampling pumps on nights before business trips, which were frequent. After seven years in consulting, he was offered a professorship at a prestigious university in South Korea, where he established the first graduate program in industrial hygiene and became one of the founders (and first Certified Industrial Hygienist) of the profession in Korea. He is considered the "grandfather of industrial hygiene in Korea" because many of his students are now professors teaching the next generation of IHs in Korea. I was inspired by the impact he was able to have on a country that was rapidly becoming industrialized, and I wanted to spend my life doing the kind of work that would benefit others and keep them safe from dangers they may not otherwise recognize in the workplace.
What’s one interesting aspect of your job?
I provide industrial hygiene oversight to the largest, most energetic laser facility in the world: the National Ignition Facility. This $3.5-billion facility conducts more than 400 experiments (laser shots) per year. One type of experiment uses high-powered lasers to "shoot" pea-sized targets to create rapid implosions of capsules filled with hydrogen isotopes, resulting in nuclear fusion. I'm part of a team that ensures the safety of workers potentially exposed to ionizing radiation and chemical hazards, such as lead or beryllium, which are often constituents of the targets that are shot. The laser enclosures are also considered permit-required confined spaces due to laser and oxygen-deficiency hazards, so I ensure that safe entry procedures are used during maintenance and reconfiguration activities.
Why are you proud to be an IH?
I am proud of being an IH because this is a job that directly benefits people in ways that they may not even know. Most people assume that they won't get injured or sick from working at their job and just go about their day. However, chemical exposures can be particularly insidious and unless there is someone looking out for them and performing hazard assessments of their work, as well as prescribing controls, they may end up becoming ill several years after first becoming exposed.
As an IH working for a large research lab, my job is never boring. I get to use my problem-solving skills to provide practical solutions for a myriad of problems that not only enable the lab to meet regulatory requirements but ultimately keep workers safe. As a training instructor, I also get to teach workers about hazards they may encounter and how they can mitigate these hazards both at work and after they return home.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about IH?
One thing I wish people knew about IHs is that for an IH, an uneventful day is a good day. IHs don’t always get recognized for what they are doing because they are in the background, reviewing chemical safety data sheets, conducting hazard assessments, collecting air samples, reviewing regulatory standards, and implementing safety programs that are often perceived as burdensome. Admittedly, there is some merit to this perception because of how the regulations are often crafted and how all workplaces have to comply with requirements that are often written with the most hazardous scenarios in mind. However, people should understand that the ultimate goal of safety programs are to prevent workers from getting injured or ill and these don’t have to be at odds with productivity. Due to their background in broad scientific and engineering subjects, IHs are usually pretty creative and can assist in developing procedures that are both productive and safe.