KAY BECHTOLD is assistant editor of The Synergist.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 846-0737.
Editor’s note: The individuals featured in this series were selected from responses to a survey that AIHA conducted in 2014. For background, see "The IH Hero Gap" in the January 2015 issue. When you get right down to it, Jeff Burton joined AIHA because of the logo. The year was 1968, and the association’s trademark featured a laboratory retort, an X-ray tube, and a centrifugal fan. Burton had studied both mechanical engineering and industrial hygiene engineering, and he identified strongly with the fan in the logo, a symbol of ventilation. “That’s what attracted me originally,” he says. “I thought, ‘Here’s an association with a whole bunch of engineers.’” At the time, Burton says, about 25 percent of IHs had degrees in engineering, and the designation “IHE”—Industrial Hygiene Engineer—was common on resumes. Engineering was part of Burton’s professional identity, and the engineering aspects of industrial hygiene—specifically, ventilation—would become his life’s work. In 1982 he established his own consultancy, IVE Inc., in Salt Lake City, which he still operates today. Ventilation is the bulk of his business and a hallmark of his legacy, which includes a host of honors from AIHA and the acclaim of his peers. In the 2006 Donald E. Cummings Memorial Lecture at AIHce, the late Steve Levine placed Burton among the pioneers of the field of ventilation. “Jeff has led the way in both the United States and on a global scale," Levine said. "He, more than most, understood, taught, and applied the hierarchy of interventions.” Today, the engineering-heavy association Burton joined has evolved along with the IH profession itself. Burton estimates that only five percent of current industrial hygienists have engineering degrees, although engineering remains essential to the profession as the first line of protection in the hierarchy of controls. “Ventilation controls are required in every human occupancy, regardless of any other controls used,” Burton says. “Every IH must have acquired ventilation competency or have access to ventilation engineering expertise to effectively control airborne exposures.” A CHANGING PROFESSION The falling number of IHs with engineering degrees is one of several demographic trends that have significantly altered the face of the profession. Early in Burton’s career, many IHs worked in “heavy” industry at smelters, foundries, factories, mills, mines, and machine shops to evaluate and control health hazards and exposures for industrial workers. Silicosis, kidney failure, lead poisoning, dermatitis, hearing loss, and other health problems were the order of the day. As those problematic overexposures were resolved, and much of the United States’ domestic heavy industry moved off-shore, many IHs found themselves working in new settings such as high-tech firms, food processors, laboratories, commercial establishments, insurance companies, and government agencies. “Dealing with indoor air quality issues in commercial buildings has become a big part of our work,” Burton adds. “We are also much more involved in OHS management programs at home and abroad. And we also concern ourselves now with comfort as well as health—adequate temperature, humidity, odor control, and air movement in the work environment.” These changes raise an important question: how can AIHA best serve a profession with so many differing emphases? As Burton became a leader in the field, serving two separate terms on AIHA’s Board of Directors, he sought to address this issue by trying to build as big a tent as possible for the many faces of IH.
An Engineer at Heart AIHA Past President Seeks a Bigger Tent for IH
BY KAY BECHTOLD, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE SYNERGIST
ENGINEER, AUTHOR, EDUCATOR Historically, AIHA’s technical committees helped determine the association’s direction in each specialty area. But as new organizations formed similar specialty groups, there was growing concern that they would begin to encroach on the science of industrial hygiene. For example, many environmental associations and groups can partly trace their roots back to AIHA, including the Health Physics Society and the Air Pollution Control Association (now the Air & Waste Management Association). During Burton’s time on the Board, he felt that certain professional areas—advances around emerging issues, for example—still needed a place inside the association. “I felt it would be in the interest of the profession and AIHA to keep new areas of growth and expansion inside the IH profession and within the association, rather than see them leave,” he says. In the mid-1990s, Burton spent part of his four years on AIHA’s presidential track working to establish the special interest group (SIG) program. Launched when Burton became president in 1997, the SIG program was intended to provide a home for new, ongoing, and growing areas of expertise and interest in the IH profession. Today, AIHA has seven active SIGs serving professionals with an interest in academia, consulting, engineering, environmental issues, indoor environmental quality, and minority issues. There is also a SIG for AIHA Fellows. Burton himself was named an AIHA Fellow in 2000, and he received the Cummings Award for outstanding contributions to industrial hygiene in 2004. He has also become a prolific author whose credits include the Burton Field Guide for Industrial Hygiene, first published by AIHA in 2002; four chapters on general methods for the control of airborne hazards in the most recent edition of The Occupational Environment: Its Evaluation, Control, and Management—more commonly known as the “White Book”—which was published in 2011; and a series of self-directed courses for AIHA: Elemental Industrial Hygiene (EIH) I, EIH II: Practical Applications of OEHS Math, and EIH III: Case Studies in the Application of Industrial Hygiene Control Methods. He juggles his volunteer work and his consulting work with a second career as an educator. Currently, he is a clinical assistant professor for the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (RMCOEH) and the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah. He teaches a ventilation course at RMCOEH, which is one of 18 NIOSH-supported education and research centers (ERCs). A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY Asked to identify the main challenges facing AIHA and industrial hygienists today, Burton mentions some familiar issues: updating and expanding current occupational exposure limits, strengthening occupational exposure banding approaches, becoming more involved in the setting of standards and methods used to define occupational hygiene practice, and improving public and employer perceptions of what industrial hygiene is and does. Perhaps most important, though, is the issue of recruitment. Burton remains hopeful that IH will attract more engineers into the field and that more young people will find careers in industrial hygiene. “Recruiting people to the profession is personal,” Burton explains. “We have to talk one-on-one and answer their questions to let them know what IH is, what the pay scales are, and what kind of work we do. “When it comes down to it, each individual member has a responsibility to strengthen the profession—to help bring people into the profession and encourage them to join AIHA and share their expertise with us.”
D. Jeff Burton, BS, MS, PE, CIH (VS, 2012)
What Kind of Near-miss Was Ebola? As I write this in mid-October 2014, Americans are still getting used to the new and scary risk of Ebola. Ebola fears led to a number of airline passengers being yanked off planes because they exhibited flu-like symptoms and had some connection, however remote, to Africa. So far they’ve all tested negative for Ebola. If that remains true, the number of such disruptions will soon decline precipitously.
Are these events warnings that we should continue to take seriously, “casting a wide net” to reduce the odds of missing an actual Ebola case onboard? Or are they false alarms that we should learn to stop worrying about? Most experts, officials, and journalists say they’re false alarms. But that answer will change in hindsight if a traveler from West Africa ever infects some fellow passengers with Ebola.
Ebola also offers an object lesson in learned overconfidence. The discovery that two nurses were infected with the virus while treating an Ebola sufferer at a Dallas hospital raised many questions. Did the nurses breach PPE protocols? Were the protocols insufficiently protective in the first place? Is it realistic to expect healthcare workers to be 100 percent meticulous in following such protocols?
One relevant fact: every nurse has considerable experience with breaches of infection control protocols that didn’t end in infection. And all too often the lesson learned isn’t that “We need to be more meticulous.” It is that “Infection control is pretty forgiving. Even when we mess up, it doesn’t usually do any harm.” Then along comes a much less forgiving pathogen, Ebola, and learned overconfidence becomes life-threatening.