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Getting to Know Deborah Nelson, Part 2

An Interview by Berrak Sarikaya

If you missed the first part of our interview with Deborah Imel Nelson, PhD, CIH, you can read it in full on SynergistNOW

For the past three decades, Deborah Imel Nelson, PhD, CIH, has been an integral part of our industry and AIHA. As we look forward to the next year, we’re curious about Deborah’s plans for the future. She gave us a sneak peek of what excites her about the coming year as she settles in to the AIHA presidency.

AIHA: How will your experience on the AIHA Board shape your transition into the presidency?
Deborah Imel Nelson (DN): I’ve had one of the longer transitions to the AIHA presidency!  Since 1998, I’ve served with eight AIHA presidents and many more Board members, each of whom has brought a different perspective and skill set to the table. In turn, these individuals have demonstrated the ability to include everyone in the decision-mak​ing process, to question the status quo, to make difficult decisions when necessary, and to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities—all the while making it look like a stroll in the park. 

AIHA: What are your top priorities for the coming year as president?
DN: Top of the list is ensuring that the momentum of Safety Matters, which was developed under Steven Lacey’s leadership, continues. With the guidance of our CEO, Larry Sloan, and the assistance of our incredible AIHA staff, we’re updating our bylaws, cutting expenses, developing new marketing initiatives, and streamlining our processes. Our director of Government Relations, Mark Ames, has some very exciting ideas on ways to strengthen our advocacy of health and safety issues. We’re also evaluating our partnerships with other OEHS organizations to ensure that our agreements are meaningful and actionable. 

AIHA: What do you see as your biggest challenge for the upcoming year?
DN: An organization that represents diverse members and goals must manage competing demands for resources. The conflicting demands between the science of industrial hygiene and the practice of OEHS, the ongoing issue of naming and promoting our profession, and the need for qualified professionals both in the U.S. and internationally are just a few of the challenges that we as an association need to address. We can’t make everybody happy with every decision that we make. But I believe that if we make room for everybody to be heard, and carefully weigh all perspectives, at the end of the day we’ll know ourselves better and make decisions that are in the best interests of the association, the profession, and those who practice it. 

AIHA: What excites you the most about our industry right now?
DN: There are so many wonderful things happening now! That really sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. In addition to the initiatives I already mentioned, there’s the #IAMIH Twitter campaign, the award-winning IH Professional Pathway program, positive steps toward collaboration with ASSE, and the progress made by the Product Stewardship Society

I’m most excited about the work being done by the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS), which AIHA helps to sponsor. The vision of CSHS is “for all organizations to consider the safety, health and well-being of workers, customers and the community as part of their sustainable business practice.” Check out their website to see their reports on standardized sustainability reporting, best practices for OSH reporting in sustainability reporting, and accounting and sustainability. A recent blog post by Alan Leibowitz, AIHA’s representative to the CSHS Board of Directors, includes more information about the organization.

The motivations for investing in OSH have moved beyond compliance, liability, and management systems. The approach being developed by CSHS has the potential to draw OEHS professionals into the “C” suite to transform the way that OSH is viewed and managed, and to influence corporate decision-making. Exciting times, for sure! 


Berrak Sarikaya is a brand amplifier based out of Seattle, Wash. Follow her on Twitter​. ​

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