IN OCTOBER, AIHA debuted its newly restructured Fall Conference at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio. True to its new “leadership and management” theme, the conference presented several revealing stories from men and women in leadership positions that can resonate with IH/OH professionals at every career stage.
What kind of leaders do people want to follow? In his opening keynote address at the Fall Conference, John Spence, a business consultant recognized as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world, discussed the qualities of a good leader based on his own research and discussions with his clients, with emphasis on the traits that millennials find most appealing.
While most of the qualities Spence mentioned—honesty, character, strong communication skills, a high degree of competence—appeal to all generations, millennials are looking for leaders who also exhibit values such as compassion and who are committed to collaboration and teamwork. Spence, who is 59, said that when his generation entered the workplace they were advised to work long hours and do what the boss said, and eventually they would find success. Millennials, by contrast, highly value work-life balance. Spence described the millennial attitude toward leaders as, “I’ll work hard for you, but you have to give me some freedom. I need you to support me and I need you to be fair, and you need to allow me to have a life outside of here.” They want their leaders to be partners, too—people who will spend time collaborating with them and working beside them.
And at least compared to older generations, millennials seek opportunities for rapid advancement. To stay with an organization, millennials need to feel that they will have a new opportunity within five to seven years, Spence said. Otherwise, they will move on to another company.
Spence devoted the second half of his presentation to the potential effects of rapid technological change on the workplace and society at large. Ever-more-capable machines will soon replace workers in large numbers. Spence cited predictions that, by 2020, computers and algorithms will replace 20 million jobs in the U.S. alone; by 2040, 45 percent of all current jobs will be handled by machines, he said. In previous eras, workers displaced by technology could be retrained to manage the technology, but Spence warned that technological capacity is increasing so rapidly that even many management jobs could be rendered obsolete.
Leaders need to be attuned to these challenges because the people they hire today will live through these changes. But not all jobs are equally vulnerable to replacement by technology: “Jobs that require empathy and person-to-person interaction and complex judgment on values will never go away,” Spence said.
In 1989, Ken Daigle was hired as a mechanical engineer at a chemical plant. On his second day on the job, an explosion severely injured two workers. The next day he was assigned to help put the plant back together.
Seven years later, while working offsite, Daigle felt the rumble of another explosion. Once again, something had gone terribly wrong: the same unit at the same plant had experienced another catastrophic failure. During the investigation of this incident, Daigle discovered that a fire had occurred at the same unit in 1982. This made three major incidents in a little more than two decades, or once every seven years.
The bottom line, Daigle said, was “we just didn’t know how to evaluate and manage risk.” Following the 1996 explosion he was invited to implement a risk management program at the company. Since then, the plant has not had a serious accident.
Keynote speaker John Spence addresses attendees at a special workshop on leadership.
Now the corporate vice president of safety management at BP, Daigle recounted his experiences during a session on enterprise risk management on Oct. 24. During his presentation, which focused on how industrial hygienists in management roles can provide the most value for their companies, Daigle acknowledged that because of competing priorities, organizations often can’t implement ideal health and safety measures—but that doesn’t mean they don’t value health and safety.
Similar to consumers who want to protect themselves and their families but don’t always buy the safest car, companies have to make choices and tradeoffs. The value of an enterprise risk management system is that it provides a structure for making these decisions. “If you’re using a structured process, by and large your decisions should be right over time,” Daigle said, but he cautioned that making the right decisions doesn’t always lead to the right outcomes.
He emphasized that risk management was a collective process and required participation from many individuals, including workers. “The worst risk assessment you ever do is the one you do by yourself,” Daigle said. “The biggest value I got from risk assessments was from people who understood the work and how the work happened,” even if they didn’t have a technical background.
While Daigle acknowledged that technical aptitude is essential for industrial hygienists, he cautioned that softer skills are even more important. “Risk assessment is as much an art as a science,” he said. “The people who do it best are more the artists” than the number-crunchers. The art, he said, is in knowing which data to use, and when and how to use it.
Daigle concluded by encouraging attendees to improve their communications skills. For industrial hygienists to be most effective, they need to ensure that the people they report to understand what they do, and that the workers they’re responsible for will follow their lead.
“You can be technically competent,” he said, “but that’s not enough.”
Allen Iske, Jr. (left) accepts the Smyth Award from AIHA Past President Daniel H. Anna.
In the 1970s, Allen Iske, Jr. was well on his way toward a successful career in laboratory chemistry when he had a revelation that changed his life. The work was interesting and enjoyable, but something was missing. He asked himself, “I’ve done all this research and I understand some chemistry, but so what?”
He realized that what he really wanted to do was work with people, to contribute to something that had tangible results and made a difference in people’s lives. Recalling this epiphany during his Henry F. Smyth, Jr. lecture on Oct. 25, Iske said there were three things he could do as a trained chemist: he could continue as a researcher, he could become a teacher, or he could enter the industrial hygiene profession.
IH offered him the best combination of science, human interaction, and purposeful work, so he jumped at an opportunity to lead an industrial hygiene laboratory for a division of Bayer Corporation. His team developed many new methods and techniques, and were pioneers in the use of dermal methods, whole-body sampling, and immunoassay. He earned his CIH and began his long association with what is now the AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs, LLC (AIHA-LAP).
He also participated in several voluntary standards activities through ASTM and AIHA. Iske’s contributions earned him a host of honors, including the ASTM Award of Merit, the Lifetime Achievement Award for ASTM Committee D22 on air quality, the AIHA-LAP Hurley Award, and the AIHA Volunteer Group Service Award.
When his lab was outsourced to another company, Iske moved to the pharmaceutical industry, and then to OSHA state consultation, and finally to academia. Now a professor at the University of Central Missouri (UCM), he focuses on preparing the next generation of industrial hygienists and occupational safety professionals. That work, he told attendees, is urgent given the number of IHs entering retirement. “We need to get our aging leaders and members in our profession [together] with younger folks coming up, and get them prepared to take over those reins now, not somewhere down the road,” he said.
The recent trend is promising, at least at UCM: Iske said the UCM Safety Sciences program has grown from 6 or 7 students to more than 25 in ten years. Still, the profession will need to groom many new practitioners in coming years, and this burden can’t be filled by academic programs alone. Iske implored attendees who work in industry to help secure the future of industrial hygiene by visiting campuses to speak with students. “Give back to your profession,” he said. “Even small things make a difference.”
The Henry F. Smyth, Jr. Award is presented annually to an individual who recognizes the needs of the profession and makes major contributions to fulfill those needs, contributing to the improvement of public welfare. A complete list of Smyth awardees is available on the AIHA
Many observers predict that the convergence of digital and real-world technologies will radically alter the workplace. For Andrew Maynard, these changes require an equally radical transformation in the way society thinks about risk.
In his closing keynote address on Oct. 25, Maynard, the director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, characterized the technological changes already underway as a new industrial revolution. Autonomous vehicles, nanoscale sensors, the “Internet of Things,” robotics, and new sciences such as optogenetics (the use of light to control living tissue) would each be profoundly disruptive on its own. But when they all happen at the same time, they result in highly complex systems that can fail in unpredictable ways, Maynard said.
The changes aren’t all technological, either. Various societal influences are blurring the lines between the workplace and the community. In such a challenging environment, Maynard argued that health and safety professionals must develop new approaches to risk.
One of the profession’s most impressive accomplishments, Maynard said, was figuring out how to calculate the risk of a chemical exposure and constructing a dose-response curve. But while this methodology works well for individual chemicals, it runs into problems when it confronts substances like engineered nanomaterials. These substances comprise millions of particles, and each particle is slightly different than the others. With such substances, Maynard suggested, linking health effects to exposures could prove impossible.
“If we’re really going to be successful in ensuring safe, healthy, productive workplaces, we also have to have innovation of how we think about risk,” Maynard said. Part of that new thinking involves rejecting the idea that we must avoid risk altogether. “We usually think about risk as something that’s got to be removed,” Maynard said—an impossibility given that “the only way to get rid of risk is to be dead.”
Maynard suggested two alternative approaches. One is to think of risk as a “threat to value,” which can help health and safety professionals recognize that some of what is threatened lies outside the workplace. A second approach is to think of risk as a landscape we must move through to get where we want to go. Navigating through broad areas of risks—societal, health, environmental—requires us to envision the future we want to achieve.
“You’ve got to think holistically about where the risk hurdles are and how you get over them,” Maynard said. “We’re already seeing the evolution of practices as new challenges arise in the workplace, but things are going to get much harder much more quickly than they ever have in the past.”
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Debate Asks:
What Should We Call Ourselves?

A new feature at this year’s Fall Conference revisited an old dispute: should the industrial hygiene profession rebrand itself?

On Oct. 24, while attendees were enjoying breakfast, six panelists squared off in the first official debate in Fall Conference history. At issue was whether the profession should rebrand to better reflect the day-to-day practice of most members. As explained by moderator Don Weekes, the makeup of the two panels—Jennifer Sahmel, Jim Thornton, and Aaron Trippler argued in favor of rebranding, with Catherine Hovde, John Henshaw, and Michael Larrañaga opposed—was decided by coin flip. The panelists were not necessarily arguing from personal conviction.
Of concern to both sides was whether rebranding would make the profession more or less appealing to young professionals. Much of the discussion centered on the word “industrial” in industrial hygiene. Proponents of rebranding argued that the term may have been a good fit back when most IHs worked in manufacturing facilities but that it sounds antiquated at a time when few manufacturing jobs remain in the U.S. Another argument in favor of rebranding was that health and safety professionals in most other countries have embraced “occupational hygiene.”
None of the panelists, even those opposing a change, disputed that industrial hygiene elicits anything but a head-scratching response from those outside the profession. “Nobody knows what ‘industrial hygiene’ is. Nobody understands or connects with it,” said Sahmel, who is on the AIHA Board of Directors. “My own kids can’t tell me what I do.”
Trippler, AIHA’s long-time director of Government Affairs, suggested that the name resonated poorly in the halls of power. “If I sit down with a policy maker and I say ‘industrial hygiene,’ they look straight through me—they don’t understand,” he said.
Former OSHA director Henshaw responded that industrial hygiene, while imperfect, is inextricably linked with the history of the profession and is associated with many improvements in worker health protection. “We have a lot invested in the term ‘industrial hygiene,’” he said.
Also arguing against a change, AIHA Director Hovde said that no matter the name, a strategy for making the profession more visible was needed. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what we call ourselves,” Hovde said. “Is that time that could be better spent talking to HR professionals and others?”
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Fall Conference Asks: What Makes Good OHS Leaders?