August 27, 2020 / Kari Schaapveld

Proud to Be an IH: Learning and Growing on the Job

Asking myself "How has your job impacted an individual, group of people, or the profession as a whole?" has made me reflect on how I have been blessed by my work. It is hard for me to convey in words the personal and professional growth I have experienced in the relatively short time I have been in this field.

Having begun my career as a molecular biologist, I did not know about industrial hygiene until a little over seven years ago. I worked first as a molecular biologist, in agriculture and then in human cancer research, and if IHs worked in those areas, I never met any. I am also a licensed Basic EMT, so I have seen more than my fair share of worst-case scenarios. However, I felt that I did not fit in with either of these roles; something was missing. By the time I arrived on the scene, tragedy had already struck and it was too late to prevent the problem.

As a consulting IH, I work with many diverse groups of people in many different environments to resolve issues before they cause negative impacts. For me, every day is a lesson in how familiar products are made, as I advise employers and workers on how to improve the work environments. Each of those experiences has prepared me for the next. For example, the ventilation techniques used to adequately move air in a tower at a chemical plant gave me an idea to discuss and implement with the engineers to resolve a problem with the HVAC system in a hospital.

Learning from the people I meet on the job helps me improve and makes the extra hours I must often spend at work worth it. I am sure many IHs have been thanked when our solutions are straightforward and cost-effective, and criticized when we could have done better. Although I appreciate the gratitude and constructive criticism, finding a solution that helps protect people I may never meet is what fuels my passion.

I also like that people know they can call on me for advice. I have stayed close with people at organizations I consulted for, who periodically call me for my advice on potential solutions they read about, especially this spring, when workplaces confronted issues not previously addressed before. I feel it is our obligation as IHs to answer questions, give knowledgeable advice, and admit what we do not know, and then do additional research and reach out to other professionals for guidance. I consider it a blessing to be trusted in such a manner.

I proudly served as Secretary for the AIHA Gulf Coast chapter for four years. This experience opened my eyes to how unique, versatile, and valuable IHs are. I had the honor of hearing stories and experiences that I would not have heard otherwise, since IHs tend to be loners in their work.

This multi-faceted field will never stop advancing, continuously finding new ways to protect workers. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by it, especially as I am studying for my CIH exam. I am writing this with gratitude for those who have taught me during my journey toward a career in IH. I greatly appreciate their patience, knowledge, experience, and support.

This blog post was originally written in December 2019 and was revised in August 2020.

Kari Schaapveld


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