Stories from the Profession
IH Pride
Editor’s note:
AIHA members who renewed their memberships before December 31, 2019, were invited to share stories about how their job affected an individual worker, a group of people, or the profession as a whole. Several of these stories have been published on the
blog as part of a series called “Proud to Be an IH.” On these pages, The Synergist presents edited versions of four recent posts in the series.  To subscribe to
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Shaping the Future
By Bernard Fontaine, Jr.
An example of why I’m proud to be an IH is an often neglected but important issue: mental health and psychosocial disorders in the workplace, which affect many employees—and are usually overlooked because these disorders tend to be hidden at work. When professional industrial hygienists begin to look closely at Total Worker Health, it becomes increasingly obvious that a person’s mental health is related to his or her physical health—they influence each other within the balance of life and work. Researchers analyzing results from the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, a nationally representative study of Americans ages 15 to 54, reported that 18 percent of those who were employed said they experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month. Mental health issues are a silent tsunami in the workplace, one that could engulf organizations in myriad human performance, productivity, and profitability problems. But the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety or depression, is such that employees may be reluctant to seek treatment—especially in the current economic climate—out of fear that they might jeopardize their job or career.  At the same time, managers may want to help, but aren’t sure how to do so. And clinicians may find themselves in unfamiliar territory, simultaneously trying to treat a patient while providing advice about dealing with the illness at work. As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognized and untreated—not only damaging an individual’s health and career, but also reducing productivity at work. Adequate treatment, on the other hand, can alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance. But accomplishing these aims requires a shift in attitudes about the nature of mental disorders, and the recognition that such a worthwhile achievement takes effort and time.  The literature on mental health problems in the workplace suggests that the personal toll on employees—and the financial cost to companies—could be eased if a greater proportion of workers who need treatment are able to receive it. The authors of such studies advise employees and employers to think of mental healthcare as an investment—one that’s worth the up-front time and cost. Most of the research on the costs and benefits of treatment has been done on employees with depression. The studies have found that when depression is adequately treated, companies see reductions in job-related accidents, sick days, and employee turnover; an increase in the number of hours worked; and improved employee productivity.  The research also suggests that treating depression is not quick. Although adequate treatment alleviates symptoms and raises productivity in the long term, one study found that in the short term, employees may need to take time off to attend clinical appointments or reduce their hours in order to recover. To overcome barriers to accessing care, and to make it more affordable to companies, the National Institute of Mental Health is sponsoring the Work Outcomes Research and Cost Effectiveness Study at Harvard Medical School. As advocates for behavioral change and safety culture, industrial hygienists must identify stressors that affect both mental health and psychosocial disorders in the workplace, and collaborate with business partners and stakeholders to help make change. Change will improve the business and interpersonal relationships between leadership and the workforce, which will drive opportunity to improve human performance, productivity, and prosperity for all.  My work as an industrial hygienist has been tremendously rewarding in reducing and preventing work-related illnesses, injuries, and diseases. Now, I look forward to further advancing the profession through innovations and technology, expanding the understanding all of the risks that affect the health and safety of workers, collaborating with business partners and stakeholders, and cultivating new opportunities for career professionals as everyone moves toward the fourth industrial revolution and the future of work. 
—Bernard Fontaine, Jr., CIH, CSP, FAIHA, was recently elected to the AIHA Board of Directors.

Be a Part of Something Bigger
By Jennifer Holliday
Why did I become an IH? To help people on a broader scale and to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to play a role in protecting people in any environment, workplace and community alike. My role as a CIH is not just to assist in workplace safety programs, but also to consider how individual health and hygiene can be impacted.  My role has allowed me to affect others’ current and future health. I can help a person through conversations, interactions, and interventions that may keep them from suffering detrimental health effects later in life. That is why I wanted to be an IH. Moreover, whether I am coming to a new job site or to a place where I am established, I have a unique perspective that only IHs can truly appreciate: we get to leave our office and learn from others in the field. Not only do I learn from others about their roles in the larger scheme, but I have also engaged with individuals and groups alike to understand why every job and role is important. It gives me and other IHs opportunities to say, “I care about you.” Sometimes I work alone, and other times I am a part of a large team assisting in projects, plant shutdowns, or maintenance efforts. I have had the opportunity to learn about various occupations, and the amount of work that goes into making something big happen. As I have developed as a professional within my own company, I have grown through AIHA as well. This organization has allowed me to travel to a variety of unique places, and to meet and learn from others within the profession, all to improve myself. I have grown as a leader through the Future Leaders Institute and become active on a few committees through AIHA. Women in IH (WIH) has allowed me to grow the most.  Working with WIH has shown me the leadership qualities in which I am strong, and those that I may need to develop further. Advocating for women’s empowerment and better representation in their workplaces, communities, schools, and other environments has led me to take a closer look at the demographics of our organization. With this perspective, my goal is to work to gain more collaboration and engagement between the IH profession and women, and with younger generations too. Engaging and organizing with individuals in the workplace, collaborating with groups, and inviting others to join to be a part of something bigger has shaped me as a CIH.
—Jennifer Holliday, CIH, is a senior industrial hygienist and consultant at HSE Solutions, Inc. 

The Virtue of Perserverance
By Denise Trabbic-Pointer
As a now-retired EHS professional, I look back at the more than 20 years I was a practicing occupational health professional in the chemical manufacturing industry, and I ponder the question of my impact on the lives and health of the people in those facilities. When I walked into the largest of those facilities in mid-1993, there had not been an active occupational health program there in the preceding five years, and all of the required programs were neglected or otherwise in disarray. Employees were told they were not being overexposed when, in fact, there was no data to support this claim and some evidence to suggest otherwise. The recent merger of two other plants into this one had resulted in an exponentially larger workforce. Many workers had been forced to move, somewhat unwillingly. The other two sites had solid EHS programs; therefore, we were dealing with a mix of good and poor EHS cultures that added to the challenge of bringing this program together and training those who needed it while not boring others who had heard it all before.  My background at that time was primarily in environmental management with an emphasis in industrial hygiene at university. I have since obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree in hazardous materials management. I am not a CIH, but I was practicing health monitoring field work as the health and safety union representative at the site where I was working—which, as it happened, was one of the sites that closed. When I was moved to the new site, I was offered the position of occupational health coordinator with the massive task of bringing this program back to compliance and training a diverse group of people in the numerous hazards and risks of their workplace.  I saw my job as twofold: to quickly gather data to assess actual employee exposure, and to structure OH programs and then provide employees with training, starting with hazard communication. I also needed to get out and meet people in the plant. Most days, I did that with a direct- reading meter for volatile organic compounds in hand. This site managed large volumes of solvents both in hard pipes and in containers (drums, pails, portable totes), and many of the tanks were not vented to the atmosphere. That meant the vapor was released into the room and moved by supplied air to the floor sweeps, past the workers. It became apparent very quickly that this was the likely cause of the overexposures. The data supported the theory that the tanks needed to be vented. The site put in place phased projects to vent the tanks, and the data improved quite quickly to indicate that employee exposures were reduced to acceptable levels. We also implemented local exhausts and made improvements to general exhausts. Training, as it turned out, was also pretty exciting, even though it was fairly frightening for me. I was not, and am not, a public speaker. But what struck me then and often afterward was how ready and eager some of those workers were to learn about the materials they were handling. It was as if they couldn’t learn enough. I tried to keep the material fresh and pertinent to each working area of the plant. I shared data from the previous year’s monitoring, and I covered the required annual training topics. But what they most appreciated was the list of engineering projects that were completed or in progress. These projects meant that we were not just talking about health and safety, but that the company was acting to reduce their exposures.  It was a long journey, and at times, I must admit, it seemed as though we might never get there. On occasion, upper management resisted acknowledging problems and was more willing to spend money to improve production than to control emissions to the room. I encourage young IH and OH professionals to persevere and to try all angles, particularly when they meet resistance. Data gathering, when possible, is most important for upper management. Placing monitoring data into graphs to illustrate exposures is quite effective, and even more effective if you can show potential future exposure reduction by installation of engineered controls. Finding supporting information from experts in ventilation and other IH-related fields is also key when presenting options to management, along with cost-benefit analyses. You can add the ventilation quote in spreadsheet format to your presentation as well as any other information that supports your case and include any associated project benefits (environmental, production, or return on investment). This is your sales pitch, so make it positive! When I look back at the years of what seemed like begging for money to implement engineered improvements for IH, I can honestly say that it was all worth it, and the company did sometimes come through. So my final recommendation continues to be: Persevere.
—Denise Trabbic-Pointer is an emeritus member of AIHA.

Community Heroism
By Todd Allshouse
Like many industrial hygienists, I had an inauspicious start to my career. I graduated college as a frustrated chemistry student with an uncertain future. A family member’s advice led me to consider industrial hygiene as a profession, and I found it a great fit that allowed me to creatively apply science while interacting with people and organizations throughout the United States and the world. In industrial hygiene, I also found a wonderful group of smart, like-minded peers and colleagues.  As my career progressed, I found that industrial hygiene is more a state of mind than simply a vocation. Whether it involves helping a friend select the right chemical for a DIY home project, advising my local school board on a mold issue, aiding a neighbor in improving a wet basement, or making a silly video with my two young daughters on the importance of wearing PPE while making slime, I am continually amazed at the applications of industrial hygiene to our daily lives.  My daughters love to learn about how things are built and how many of their favorite products are made. In this digital age, it gives them perspective that the things they enjoy are made in workplaces by real people who risk their safety and health every day to make those products. I am glad to show my daughters the ways our profession can give back by enhancing the lives of those who have made the world we live in. I enjoy acting as an ambassador for the profession in both my professional and private lives, and I love offering friends and family industrial hygiene solutions to their everyday problems. My past few months have been spent providing COVID-19 consultations to state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, manufacturers, construction companies, school districts, property managers, healthcare providers, and a large-scale television production. I have advocated among my family, friends, and neighbors for them to practice risk-reducing behaviors, and offered them peace of mind during this frightening time. Industrial hygienists are positioned to be liaisons between the medical experts and the individuals in our communities who are seeking practical, science-based advice to protect themselves from COVID-19 and during future public health emergencies. Community effort is essential to overcoming a public health crisis—and industrial hygienists will always be a vital part of this effort.  Although industrial hygiene may not be as widely known as other professions, I take heart that my loved ones know that my occupation supports the health and well-being of everyone around us. That makes me a superhero in my community, and it’s one of the many reasons I am proud to be an IH.  
—Todd Allshouse, CIH, CSP, is the director of Safety and Industrial Hygiene Services for Compliance Management International (CMI).