Members Making a Difference: Laurence Svirchev, CIH

Protecting the health and safety of people at work has never been as critical as it is now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our members have used their expertise and knowledge to collaborate online, at work, in communities, and in households. Take Laurence Svirchev, CIH, an AIHA member since 2003, and AIHA’s ambassador to China. In early February, he appealed to the AIHA membership through Catalyst for donations of PPE that would go directly to emergency medical staff in Wuhan.

I reached out to Laurence to find out how he got involved in the COVID-19 response and why he finds IH/OEHS to be a fulfilling profession.  TWO PANDEMICS Laurence has 38 years of experience in the IH/OEHS field, including working as an occupational hygiene officer with WorkSafeBC in British Columbia. One of his tasks was to inspect the health and safety operations of hospitals at the time of the SARS outbreak in 2003. That led him and other IHs to collaborate with the ad hoc SARS Scientific Committee. They researched what happens when a person coughs and sneezes. A dramatic high-velocity photo from the 1930s of a sneeze led to a series of questions about the visible particles coming out of the person’s mouth. How long do these particles stay in the air before they deposit on surfaces? What is the distribution of particles and their deposition sites within the respiratory system?
“Young people can see the opportunities that IH offers.”
GOUHAR NAYEEM is AIHA's membership marketing specialist.
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At that time, the "3 foot rule" dominated: only healthcare workers within three feet of a patient were thought to need fit-tested N95 respirators. Industrial hygienists demonstrated that infectious aerosol particles could have long residency in air beyond the 3 foot mark. The IHs and their medical colleagues also had to learn how to protect other healthcare workers, such as orderlies delivering meals to patients. Laurence stressed the importance of closely collaborating with the medical and public health communities, as different professions have different knowledge bases. As a result of these collaborations, there was no transmission of SARS in British Columbia. Starting in 2010, Laurence began managing HSE departments for a Chinese company specializing in international infrastructure construction. When COVID-19 appeared in China, Laurence was personally concerned, as he has family and friends in China. Using his knowledge and connections, Laurence started encouraging his colleagues to donate PPE to vetted Chinese contacts, people who would ensure healthcare workers received needed equipment until China could ramp up its internal production.  Laurence identified his key takeaway: “Knowledge and human need cause people to pull together,” he said, and emphasized the importance of sharing that knowledge to combat problems such as COVID-19.  IH CAREERS I asked his advice for students considering careers in IH. “Young people are inspired, but they may not know what they want to do,” he said. “They are always looking for direction and ultimately, they will find it. In IH you can specialize in various fields; once you have learned the fundamentals, you can do whatever you want. Young people can see the opportunities that IH offers.”  In IH, students establish a general base upon which they can build and specialize according to their fields of interest. And when a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic occurs, they are able to share their knowledge and experiences to make a difference beyond the confines of their job or business.  Laurence concluded our conversation by saying that “our organization and our members are mobilized and doing really great stuff. The exchange of ideas and questions on Catalyst shows that we are all still learning and looking for the right things to do. Industrial hygienists are curious and caring people, always seeking new knowledge and modifying old knowledge to fit new circumstances.”