#IAmIH: Suzanne Wilde, Stantec
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. This is the first of several #IAmIH posts that will feature Q&As with registered occupational hygienists. ROHsare IH professionals who are credentialed by the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists, which sets standards of professional competence for occupational hygienists and occupational hygiene technologists in Canada and around the world.
What inspired you to enter the profession?
After earning my undergraduate degree in environmental science at the University of Toronto, I went into consulting thinking that I was going to focus only on environmental issues. Soon after joining the consulting world, I began working as a hazardous materials technician, focusing mainly on asbestos and mold. A lot of that work involves ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of contractors, workers, and occupants of a building. The more familiar I became with the industry, the more I realized that there are many more workplace hazards than asbestos and mold. Knowing that you can help companies ensure the safety of their workers—and that they go home healthy at the end of the day—inspired me to pursue further education in the occupational health field.
How did your career develop after that?
I started my master’s in occupational health part-time through McGill University while still working. I stayed in consulting for the first five years of my career, mainly focusing on hazardous materials. After that, I decided to relocate. I became an occupational health and safety consultant for the University of Calgary, where I managed their biosafety, asbestos management, and IAQ-related programs. While there, I gained knowledge of and experience with occupational health and safety management systems and general workplace safety.
When my son was six months old, I moved back to Ontario and did a short stint at a local healthcare facility. As an OHS coordinator there, I helped update their confined space program, hearing conservation program, and their supervisor OHS responsibilities training package.
Then I started missing the variety that comes with consulting and decided to rejoin the company I worked for previously, which had since been acquired by Stantec. Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed working as a senior occupational hygienist and have been involved in various interesting projects within different work environments over the last seven years—definitely getting a wide range of experience.
What kinds of different environments have you worked in?
It might be easier to say what environments I haven’t worked in! The only one I really haven’t been too involved in is the nuclear industry, but I look forward to experiences in that industry as well.
How do you adapt to working in different industries?
The basic principles of industrial hygiene—anticipation, recognition, evaluation, prevention, and control—applies to any work situation. This is fundamental. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the industry you find yourself in because you’re still going to assess any workplace hazard using this process. A hazard is a hazard, and the approach is the same regardless of the workplace—keeping in mind, of course, that there are workplaces that have site-specific concerns to account for.
Are you involved with AIHA?
I’ve been a member of AIHA for a while now—since 2009. I’m currently a member of the Continuing Education Committee, which helps evaluate and select the professional development courses that are available during AIHce. It’s great to have the opportunity to see that behind-the-scenes process—how they select courses that will help others maintain their CM points.
How does your involvement with AIHA and other organizations such as the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists help you in your career?
It’s all about being a part of a network of like-minded people who have their own sets of experiences and subject matter expertise. These organizations allow us to connect with a vast number of experts and professionals. If you are presented with any issues that you may have very little or no experience with, there’s a whole network of folks out there who collectively have seen it all. Plus, we industrial hygienists are a lot of fun to hang out with.
What made you decide to pursue both your CIH and your ROH?
I decided to pursue both my CIH and my ROH at the same time for efficiency since you have to study very similar material for each. The CIH designation has a longer history and is internationally recognized, but I also wanted to obtain the ROH certification since Canadian regulations do vary in some aspects.
The application and examination process for the ROH is a bit different from the CIH. For the CIH, there is the comprehensive application process, reference verification, and an examination. The ROH goes a step above—there’s the application process, reference verification, examination, and then an interview. The interview process allows you to meet with veteran ROHs, and they present you with various IH-related scenarios or challenges to evaluate how you would respond to each. This helps them to assess how you would react in real-life scenarios.
What do you love most about your job?
I always say that I’m lucky enough to do what I love, and I love what I do. I enjoy the variety of consulting and have great satisfaction in knowing that I am helping others. I also love the fact that we are constantly learning new concepts, and we also have the opportunity to educate others during the course of our work, which empowers them.
What advice would you give to students or young professionals who are considering making a career in IH/OH?
Because I am an instructor of an IH-related college-level graduate course, I often get asked these types of questions. I encourage those entering this line of work to learn the key principles of industrial hygiene and the basics of each of the various IH-related topics, including radiation, asbestos, noise, and chemical exposures. Through this process, students should be able to find the area or areas that they are passionate about and pursue that and become subject matter experts. Initially, they shouldn’t discount any topics; they may be surprised by the field or subject matter that they end up being passionate about. They should also know that their area of expertise will evolve or change as they progress through their careers. They may focus on a particular field for a period of time and then become knowledgeable in another field later on. The landscape is ever changing.