Samantha Connell, MSPH, CIH, and Brian Schmidt, MSc OH, CMFOH, both work in pharmaceuticals in Europe, but their roles and responsibilities are quite different. Schmidt works as the industrial hygiene subject matter expert on his company’s global EHS team. He provides direction and support to a network of 18 sites, which have varying levels of industrial hygiene capability. Connell’s role as a site hygienist is more granular: she’s part of a team responsible for keeping their site of more than 3,000 people up and running. She’s involved in daily production and is tasked with responsibilities such as managing toxicological information, conducting air sampling in production, writing reports, and conducting internal audits. In their respective roles, both Schmidt and Connell make important contributions to protecting the health and safety of workers. The Synergist recently spoke with them to discuss where their responsibilities intersect and how global and site hygienists can work together to make a difference in their companies.

THE SYNERGIST: How would you describe the roles of global and site hygienists?
BRIAN SCHMIDT: The business language that can be used to describe the roles of global and site hygienists is “strategic vs. operational.” If you’re a global hygienist “floating” above sites, your job is to establish a direction for the company. When you’re on a site, your role is more operational. You’re doing things that make a difference almost immediately, and many times you get instantaneous feedback. For example, when a site hygienist improves the ventilation control at a work station, they might be able to demonstrate an immediate improvement using a direct-monitoring device. I have to become comfortable with the idea that feedback on my efforts to improve worker health may not come for a few years. It’s like trying to turn a huge ship and hoping that, when you look back in a year or two, you’ll see a deviation in the wake pattern.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t think hard about a strategy and interventions we believe will turn the ship, but the feedback often comes later. SAMANTHA CONNELL: As a site hygienist, you spend a lot of your time doing operational things, but you also have a strategic role. You have to keep your programs running or create new ones, and you have to write procedures for your site. Other daily activities include maintaining and communicating hazard communication and toxicological data; conducting IH monitoring, including planning, sampling, reporting, and follow-up; supporting production; training workers; and conducting risk assessments, internal audits, and accident investigations. BS: Global hygienists don’t necessarily have deeper knowledge or higher qualifications than site hygienists; it’s about a difference in perspective. If you’re in a global role and you’re regularly traveling to different sites, you have a different perspective of what’s going on in the company. However large or significant a site might be, it can be difficult for someone based in one location to see outside of it because most of their interactions have to do with the operational side of things: keeping the site running, making the product, and doing it safely. As a global hygienist, I might be at a site only once a year, and in between I’ll have some broader goals. That means it’s harder for me to know what’s really going on at the site level and to have the same kind of impact.
TS: What are some of the most important things for global and site hygienists to discuss during such limited face-to-face time?
SC: In-person meetings can help global hygienists gauge the company’s needs. Site hygienists get the opportunity to highlight the topics that are most pressing for their sites. I often save questions and important subjects for when the global person will be at my site. That way, I can get the answers I need and we can knock out as much as we can all in one day. It can also be difficult to feel like you have a genuine working relationship with someone you’ve never met, and face-to-face time can help with that.  BS: As a global hygienist, you’re not on site that often, and the majority of your communication with site hygienists is via email and Skype calls. Face-to-face moments are really valuable to connect with people: they’re not just names in an Outlook folder. It’s one of the responsibilities of the global person to coordinate such communication—to get everyone together, to have an agenda, to have an idea about the different things you want to cover every year. These meetings help global and site hygienists coordinate projects so that everyone knows where we’re going, and everyone has a chance to contribute to developing a certain approach that’s going to be uniform company-wide in the future. Face-to-face time also allows me to hear the struggles that individual locations have, which helps me to set strategy. For example, I might realize that everybody’s struggling with exposure assessment because no one has ever defined our company approach. Samantha mentioned that she would save her questions for the in-person meeting, and so does everyone else. That allows me to sift out what’s missing across the organization and pinpoint location-specific problems that we can address only on the affected sites. SC: In some cases, the global hygienist may be looking for information that site hygienists can help gather. For example, if one site has a case of adverse health effects from a product that is used elsewhere, the global person can look to see whether it’s happened at other facilities and how they dealt with it. Brian mentioned that the global person should coordinate face-to-face meetings and collaboration between global and site hygienists, and I agree. In one of my previous roles as a site hygienist, I had the opportunity to visit two other company sites. I met with Brian, who held a global role, and with the hygienists based on those sites. During that meeting, we realized that we were all working separately on the same thing: an industrial hygiene exposure monitoring document. We found that we all had similar ideas, but that we each had a specialization in that area. It was really important that we finally met and that somebody coordinated that for us. In a support or operational role, you don’t really have the time to coordinate those things. It’s difficult for site hygienists to step away from our sites because when we do, we’re taking away a resource (us). It really helps if you have someone from global organizing and pushing that type of collaboration along. Someone who has a global vision can weigh in on what might work at the site level and help you understand how they envision something working for the company as a whole. If you have a strong line of communication and trust, you can also use each other as a daily resource to sound out ideas and review monitoring results—things like that. BS: Right, we can be a resource for each other as well as for different groups of people. It depends on the company setup, but in the pharmaceutical industry, you can generally say that the site hygienist is a resource for production. Global hygienists are often a resource for industrial hygienists on a site and for other staff who are tasked with the operational side of things. Sometimes site hygienists need someone to bounce ideas off of, to clarify answers to questions, or to help them understand whether they’re heading in the right direction.
TS: How do you work together to implement corporate standards internationally?
BS: A global person might write a corporate standard, and that’s going to apply to the entire globe, all the languages, all the cultures, all the legal frameworks—and that invariably means that it has to be a bit general. The standard has to set principles for what the company wants on a specific topic. For example, we might say that we want all our workers to not be exposed above a certain occupational exposure limit for a substance. If it’s an internally set OEL, then it’s usually a single value that applies all over. You won’t find it repeated in any legal documents or country-specific documents because it’s usually an internal substance. In cases where an OEL varies between countries, you have to meet whatever the legal value is in your country. But if there’s a competing global company standard, then you would say the site has to meet the more conservative value.  On a site, you’re not writing standards, but you’re looking at the standards and the principles that have been developed at the global level and you’re using them to write site-specific procedures. Every situation’s going to be slightly different depending on where you are, so you have to interpret those principles and make them into something practical that can be done step by step. 
SC: Right, so we might have the global toxicologist or hygienist giving us this exposure limit. On my site, I would need to make sure that we’re at least complying with the local, country-specific OELs and eventually internal OELs. I would also have to figure out how to implement this directive: on my site, is the process contained enough that we are under the exposure limit? If not, how do I ensure workers are protected in the meantime? Every site hygienist gets the same basic information from global and then they have to take it and implement it in their site-specific way.  From the global perspective, it’s difficult to find a happy medium when writing a document intended to be applicable across the world or even in a specific region, on sites that likely all have a different way of operating. The document has to be detailed enough to outline the requirement, but not so detailed that it can’t apply to every site. On the other hand, if a document is so vague that it merely provides an outline, the site might not be sure what to do in situations that fall between the lines. Good working relationships between global and site hygienists can help in these situations. For example, global should communicate expected changes and support sites during rollout of a corporate standard. Corporate documents often contain numerous requirements and details. At first glance, it might seem daunting for a site to comply with a new document without support. To a developed site with resources, the same document might seem restrictive and force the site to change processes that are already in place and potentially working well. One challenge for a developed site might be that global might devote more resources to underdeveloped sites because global expects that developed sites have the resources available to implement standards and solve issues on their own. This isn’t wrong—you have to prioritize and help sites that don’t have EHS professionals. But EHS roles in general tend to be underserved, so even a developed site might be lacking enough professionals to properly implement new requirements.
TS: How do companies make sure that all sites are in compliance?
BS: That’s where auditing comes in. Global and site hygienists are both involved in audits, but in different ways. As a global hygienist, I’m charged by the organization to audit sites, which assures the top leadership of the company that EHS or industrial hygiene specifically is being properly managed. That means traveling to visit a site for a number of days and delving as far as possible into all the relevant topics in line with the corporate standards to determine the status of a site. If a site has an A rating, for example, it means they’re doing everything well.  Another site might have a C rating, which means that they need a lot of attention. That attention should come from EHS specialists like me as well as from the relevant upper management who are responsible for that location to make sure that the appropriate resources are available to change the situation. Samantha, what about auditing from a site perspective? SC: We’re often a bit hard on ourselves because we’re here, we see it every day, and we know every single detail about our site. My site might be doing a good job in most subjects, but when global leaves after a successful audit and the whole site’s celebrating, you think, “Is everybody going to stop continuously improving because they think we’re doing well?” We might still have a long way to go, and there’s always room for improvement.
TS: What might the consequences be if the global hygienist and the site hygienist aren’t communicating well or working together as they should?
SC: Conflicting priorities or messages may cause workers to lose trust in the company’s ability to adequately protect them. Poor communication may also cause the global and site hygienist to lose credibility. It’s not uncommon that a site will come up with a plan to solve a certain issue and then global rolls something out shortly after that isn’t necessarily coherent with the first message from the site and vice versa. Global might also have different expectations regarding the timeline of implementing a plan because they aren’t aware of a site’s priorities. In other cases, global may underestimate the workload necessary for implementation or the practicality of a process or plan they created.  On a chemical manufacturing site, the priority tends to be controlling chemical exposures. In one of my previous roles, global’s goal was to roll out a plan for hearing conservation for all its sites. But a strategic site priority was to get chemical exposures under control and improve our exposure surveillance methods. As the site hygienist, I was able to see the importance of both issues, but I couldn’t physically be everywhere at once (I was one hygienist for 1,000 people). Since I worked for the site, the site expected me to fulfill their priorities first. Another example of differing priorities might be if a site has already defined its five-year plan when global decides on a new project to implement within the next year or two. If there wasn’t good communication ahead of time, it can be very frustrating for both parties: the site already knows where they want to go and so does global, but perhaps their priorities don’t match up. When site and global priorities clash, it absolutely affects our ability to implement processes or put interventions in place. Whoever’s perspective is chosen, so to speak, the other’s is put on the back burner.  BS: The relationship between the site hygienist and the global hygienist is an interesting one. For example, when Samantha and I previously worked together, she didn’t report to me. But because I was trying to turn a big ship, I wanted to influence her to implement certain things on her site. That created a dynamic where she might have had input from production staff, who had certain needs; input from her boss, who had certain priorities in mind; and input from me, the global hygienist, who had still other priorities in mind.  You have to get to a point where you can be honest and transparent with each other so that you can be clear about what your priorities are and why you want certain topics to move forward. In turn, the site hygienist can be clear about why a certain plan might be difficult, what hurdles she faces to make it happen, or perhaps how it compares to other priorities identified at the site level.  In some companies, you would have a situation where it’s more like a chain of command: all the industrial hygienists from the global person down through the regions, countries, and sites report in a single line. But I’ve found that’s not typically the case in Europe, so we have to be constantly communicating and working to influence each other’s priorities. SC: As a site hygienist, it’s quite difficult to maintain that relationship and be pushed and pulled in different directions. The global person is your support in the sense that you want the same things for the company, but you don’t necessarily report to that person. You can see that global wants to implement the right things, but your site might say, “We don’t have the time or resources for that.” Or it can be the contrary: your site might want to implement something, but the global person might say that it’s not a priority for the company as a whole. It’s really important to align strategically, but it’s quite rare that everyone has the same priorities.  
is an industrial hygienist at Lonza in Visp, Switzerland. She can be reached via
is global occupational hygiene manager, Biopharma, at Merck Group, Switzerland. He can be reached via
is senior editor of The Synergist. She can be reached via
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“Global hygienists don’t necessarily have deeper knowledge or higher qualifications than site hygienists; it’s about a difference in perspective.”
Editor’s note: The interviewees for this article previously worked for the same company in roles similar to the ones they now hold at different companies. This conversation generally reflects their previous work experience.
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