Cummings Lecture Highlights Social Nature of Industrial Hygiene

By Ed Rutkowski

In an address at AIHce 2013 on May 22, Lindsay Booher, CIH, CSP, recipient of AIHA’s 2013 Donald E. Cummings Award, recounted several experiences that have shaped his 30-year career in industrial hygiene and speculated on the profession’s future direction. Booher, the manager of the ExxonMobil Human Factors and SSH&E Leadership Center of Excellence, is commonly cited as an expert in the identification and control of potential benzene exposures in the petrochemical industry. His lecture focused on the approach to industrial hygiene at ExxonMobil and emphasized that social skills are just as important for industrial hygienists as technical skills.

Following a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Booher began his career with ExxonMobil in 1982. In 1988 he was transferred to the refinery in Baton Rouge, La., where he developed close relationships with the workers he was responsible for protecting. “I got to a point where the people working on the floor were my brothers and sisters,” Booher said.

His experience at Baton Rouge also taught him the importance of first-line supervisors, who were influential in establishing the workplace culture at the refinery. One of the most effective things industrial hygienists can do, Booher said, is to establish good relationships with these supervisors: “They’re making decisions based on the information we give them. If they don’t get our information, we aren’t going to be very effective,” he said.

Booher also discussed the tragic explosion at the Baton Rouge refinery on Christmas Eve, 1989, that killed one worker and injured several others. According to news accounts, the explosion resulted from the ignition of a vapor cloud, measured 3.2 on the Richter scale, and could be felt up to 15 miles away. The resulting fire burned for 18 hours before it was brought under control, Booher said.

"The tragedy “taught me a lot about having a sense of family and the need to prevent these kinds of incidents,” Booher said. He commended his ExxonMobil colleagues for their openness in communicating with the surrounding community about the explosion. “As a profession, we have a tremendous amount of built-in credibility with our communities and the workers we work with,” Booher said.

Established to honor the memory of AIHA’s third president, the Donald E. Cummings Award is given for outstanding contributions to the knowledge and practice of the profession of industrial hygiene.

Ed Rutkowski is AIHA's managing editor, Periodicals, and editor in chief of The Synergist.