ZACK MANSDORF, PhD, CIH, CSP, QEP, is a consultant in EHS and sustainability in Boca Raton, Florida.
Send feedback to The Synergist.
A Career Without Borders
The foundation for most practicing industrial hygienists is a STEM education followed by either graduate work, on-the-job learning, or both. My own career fit this pattern. I attended the University of Michigan School of Public Health on a fellowship in water and wastewater management. Like some of my fellow students, I took a lot of electives, including in industrial hygiene. Some of us ended up in epidemiology, toxicology, water and wastewater management, and air pollution control, to name just a few specialties. We all were required to take core courses (such as biostatistics) followed by courses in our majors.
My point is that, contrary to the apparent trend in university industrial hygiene curricula, our career paths are not limited to or defined by a narrow scope of practice. There will always be a place for experts in exposure assessment, but most organizations want technically oriented staff who can work across boundaries. Consider that over 10 percent of practicing certified safety professionals are also certified industrial hygienists. For those who report their credentials to AIHA, approximately half of all CIHs have the CSP, and some even have the qualified environmental professional (QEP) or other credentials.
BEYOND FORMAL TRAINING When I started working in EHS, it was common for environmental professionals to be in the engineering department and for most safety and industrial hygiene departments to be separated. The current trend, while not universal, is for combined departments since many tasks and requirements cross the boundaries of EHS. It is also not unusual for someone with an academic degree in either safety, industrial hygiene, or environmental health to manage an EHS department since a basic understanding of all three fields is required.
I am sure most of you have taken on assignments well beyond your formal training in industrial hygiene. A mentee of mine with a graduate degree in IH spent a significant amount of time on fire safety while working for a specialty paint manufacturer. In my career, I worked as a radiation protection officer in two different jobs. Are fire safety and radiation protection industrial hygiene? Should they be?
The person responsible for sustainability and ESG will likely be the one who decides your work activities and budget.
With a STEM background, you can take additional training or education in any of the large variety of topical areas that cut across safety, industrial hygiene, and the environmental field. In the military, I was an environmental science officer; today, the title is environmental science/engineering officer in the Army and bioenvironmental engineer in the Air Force. For these jobs, too, a STEM background is good preparation.
As a final example, consider the knowledge and skills necessary to practice product stewardship. These were not part of my formal education, but while at L’Oreal I spent a considerable amount of time developing a carbon footprint for shampoo as one example.
EMBRACE OPPORTUNITIES One area of great interest and influence is sustainability and ESG (environment, social, and governance). Why should you care about these areas? Because the person responsible for sustainability and ESG will likely be the one who decides your work activities and budget. The more you can contribute to these areas, the more value you will provide.
What should be clear from this short piece is that opportunities are unlimited and change with the times. Embrace these opportunities. Use your STEM knowledge to explore water use and reuse, waste and energy management, or other areas of concern within sustainability and ESG. By broadening your perspective, you will enhance your professional brand and inherent value to your employer, which can lead to senior-level employment possibilities. This is not a call to abandon IH but to consider adding skills and knowledge that can lead to greater influence and more options.
To get started, visit oehscareers.org, a microsite created by AIHA to help students of all ages become aware of the profession. Here you can learn from others who have embarked on exciting and diverse fields of practice.