July 7, 2020 / Bob Kirkby

Resonating with Those We Serve

On June 30, I attended the virtual town hall about recent changes to AIHA’s branding. One aspect of the new brand is an emphasis on our members’ connections to occupational health and safety, a more familiar term to the general public than industrial hygiene.

The town hall was valuable and thought provoking. I took three key points from the discussion:

    1. Looking Outside of Ourselves

      “Looking outside of ourselves” means that the brand is designed to resonate with other audiences—those whom we serve. All of the incredible value that our profession offers is wasted if those outside the profession don’t know who we are, what we do, and how we can serve them.

      For example, I am one of only a handful of hygienists working in law enforcement. I recently presented a webinar on opioid safety to 320 people who work in forensic science labs. The majority of forensic scientists that I’ve instructed have no previous work experience in an “industrial” environment. Realizing that this was likely the first time that many in the audience had heard of our profession, I included a slide with an old photograph of miners to help me explain where this odd-sounding profession came from and how its work relates to a forensic science lab. After thinking about "looking outside ourselves,” I see that a new approach to selling our brand to the people we serve is needed.

      2. Accessibility for Young Professionals

      I joined AIHA as a student member while I was an undergrad at Ferris State University. During my senior year, I used the AIHA membership directory to mail at least 100 resumes and cover letters to hygienists across the country, but when I graduated in 1994, I was unable to find a job as an IH. Instead, I worked for 13 years as a “hazardous materials chemist,” “operations specialist,” “chemical safety assistant,” and “environmental quality analyst.” It wasn’t until January 2007, when I signed on with the Michigan State Police, that I attained the title “industrial hygienist.” Regardless of my title, I always viewed the world through an IH perspective. But I never considered rejoining AIHA until I had the IH title. I could have benefited a great deal from AIHA during those years, but I felt that I wasn’t an IH and therefore did not belong in AIHA.

      Since 2007, I’ve conducted new employee safety orientations for over 150 recent college graduates. In that time, not a single person I’ve taught has claimed to have heard the term “industrial hygiene” or understood what it means. I’ve had many experiences where people say, “I had no idea people do the work that you do.” I am concerned that many talented young people are missing out on an extremely rewarding career. If this is the case, our profession will suffer greatly.

      3. Workers Are People First

      This concept aligns with NIOSH’s Total Worker Health initiative. I find that much of the educational work I do as part of my employment addresses issues that people can and should take home to their families. Chemical safety, first-aid, hearing protection, you name it—none of it ends at 5 p.m. When we do a good job of protecting workers on the job, we also protect their families, and the communities we live in.

      I support AIHA’s rebranding and look forward to helping our profession benefit more people and encouraging talented people to join us in creating healthier workplaces and a healthier world.

      Bob Kirkby

      Bob Kirkby, CIH, is with the Forensic Science Division of the Michigan State Police. He is a member of AIHA's Continuing Education Committee and Opioids Responder Working Group.

      Comments

      Industrial hygiene is not only a title, it is also a skill set. It provides people with a framework for solving health and safety problems and can be used by anyone regardless of their job title or position description. Leading an occupational health and safety program, I use industrial hygiene to improve the well-being of our staff and provide value to my employer. I teach everyone to anticipate hazards and understand the hierarchy of controls regardless of their role in the organization, and everyone is expected to take an active role in workplace safety and contribute to our health and safety goals using industrial hygiene. It is very important that we move beyond the job title and build a bigger tent for Industrial Hygiene. The more people understand and use this skill set, the more effective we will all be in creating healthier workplaces and a healthier world.

      By Bob Kirkby on July 9, 2020 12:34pm
      A Little Clarity Never Hurts

      We can’t assume that the terms "industrial hygiene" or "industrial hygienist" are universally understood by all employers. Increasingly, academic programs are being renamed to departments of "occupational health", "environmental and occupational health", and other derivations. For every talent acquisition employee who is familiar with the term " industrial hygiene", there are probably 2 or more who are not. Remember -- the concept of industrial hygiene/industrial hygienist is NOT going away. It’s more about making the name of our profession more aligned with what schools are calling their programs, as well as what we are seeing in some industry sectors.

      By Lawrence Sloan on July 8, 2020 2:53pm
      What's In A Name

      Young students may not know what an industrial hygienist is but industry does, and their talent acquisition folks do. All one has to do is look at the related job postings on LinkedIn. Industrial hygiene and CIH appear throughout.

      By Bart Ellingsen on July 8, 2020 1:03pm

      I graduated from the University of Cincinnati MS Program in Environmental Health [Industrial Hygiene Program] in 1977 & was hired as a starting level, Corporate Industrial Hygienist, for Caterpillar Inc, in November 1977. What you are talking about has been discussed, rediscussed, rediscussed, and discussed again! A lot of problems occurred when corporations started combining Environmental, Health, & Safety Departments. For years at CAT, Industrial Hygiene was a part of the Corporate Medical Department and Plant Medical Departments. In my humble opinion, and 40+ years experience [including on the shop floor], Industrial Hygiene SHOULD BE A PART OF THE OCCUPATIONAL MEDICAL DEPT. There is a great need for graduate school trained, specialists in Industrial Hygiene!!! We need to continue to educate the public about Industrial Hygiene!!! When I was the Plant Industrial Hygiene Engineer for CAT’s Mossville Engine Plant and Technical Center, the Medical Director for the Complex arranged for a one day training program for the 2nd year Medical Students of the University of Illinois at Peoria. Not only did the students learn about Occupational Medicine but I also gave a presentation on Industrial Hygiene. The Medical Students also received a tour of the engine plant. [MOST practicing physicians have never toured the inside of a modern factory!]. We are NOT Hazardous Materials Specialists, Safety Technicians, etc!!! We are better: INDUSTRIAL HYGIENISTS!!!

      By Gregory Williams on July 7, 2020 9:41pm
      Healthier Workplaces (Health Protection) & A Healthier World (Health Promotion) Go Together

      Thank you, Bob, for your insights on how AIHA's recent branding changes will benefit both members of our profession and the people they serve. I also appreciated your reference to NIOSH's Total Worker Health (TWH) initiative -- thus, this comment's title which is intended to reflect the synergy between health protection and health promotion that we as IHs (um -- occupational health and safety professionals) can foster through our TWH-related efforts in collaboration with other like-minded professionals (e.g., HR & wellness specialists, healthcare professionals, various therapists, etc.).

      By Stephen Hemperly on July 7, 2020 7:24pm

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