Into the Field
What to Include in Your IH Field Sampling Kit
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How many of you have watched with envy as investigators on TV shows like CSI open their kit and find, right on top, the exact piece of equipment they need? If you’re like me, you think, “Yeah, right. That never happens.” As the phrase goes, “Only in Hollywood.”
Approximately 150 years before CSI, Louis Pasteur said, “In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” So, the real lesson from our scene above is that the investigator was prepared with a kit and had the appropriate equipment available to collect the data needed to crack the case. But it isn’t just the handheld kit that TV investigators use. They’re always pulling things out of their pockets and even from their vehicles, which always seem to be top-of-the-line SUVs. (Imagine rolling up to a manufacturing plant in one of the Hummers used on CSI Miami.)
One thing I’ve learned from over thirty years as an industrial hygienist is that being prepared to collect data is vital. This article summarizes my preparations for going into the field. Fundamental to everything is ARECC: anticipate, recognize, evaluate, control, and confirm. The better prepared you are, the more thorough an evaluation you can make. A more thorough evaluation yields a better assessment, so those you protect will go home to their loved ones healthier and happier every day.
PREPARATION Start by anticipating what you might find onsite and what supplies and equipment you need. Before you head out the door, research the kind of site you are assessing and why you will be there. Understanding the type of industry starts the ball rolling. For example, construction site hazards and manufacturing company hazards may differ significantly. But don’t stop there: dig deeper, because even a construction site can have different hazards than other construction sites, just as the vast array of manufacturing sites have different hazards.
Now that you have identified the basic industry, move on to the who, what, when, and where.

Who As mentioned previously, construction and manufacturing are quite different. However, hazards in shipyards, solar fields, and underground mines, to name a few, are equally dynamic and are often quite varied.
Who can also mean the size of the site. A company with several hundred employees may have significantly more resources to address health hazards, while small employers, especially those with only a few workers, may need more resources and knowledge of the hazards. How you prepare for each is quite different. You might need to visit a facility you’ve been to previously and are familiar with or a new facility you’ve never seen before. Research the literature for the typical hazards in the type of industry you plan to visit. Also, learn more about the particular company; for example, check the OSHA website for enforcement activity. Most importantly, take the time to develop a preliminary mental picture of what you might find.
What This refers to the scope of the project. Is it limited in some fashion, such as investigating specific complaints, conducting air sampling, examining ventilation, or measuring noise? Perhaps the scope is instead a comprehensive “wall-to-wall” assessment. Or maybe your goal is to conduct an indoor environmental quality assessment. The requirements and preparation for each type of project are different.
When This refers primarily to the time of year and the time of day of your visit. Obviously, a heat stress survey in the middle of a summer day will be significantly different than one done at night or in the winter months. In addition to heat, you should also consider ambient lighting. Shiftwork involving outdoor work can also affect your preparations: an operation normally performed during the day shift can look and feel very different when performed at night.
Where When preparing for the setting of your visit, the first thing to consider is indoor versus outdoor. The weather can have a profound effect on your day. For instance, what if it rains the day you want to conduct dust sampling outdoors? You also need to consider the site itself. Environmental factors like sloping terrain, a midtown location, and nearby activity may play a part in the hazards on a construction site. At a manufacturing site, the building itself may contribute to hazards, as may the layout of operations, the installed ventilation (or lack thereof), or neighboring businesses.
If the site is a small town, services such as water, cellphone coverage, and electricity might be readily available. At sites that are more remote, such as new construction or an oil pipeline, those services may be unavailable or intermittent, and you may have difficulty uploading data or accessing online resources.
As you can see, a fair amount of preparation is necessary before you get to the site. Other industrial hygienists would probably add several items to my rudimentary list. A few to consider might be whether the workers are represented by a union, whether there have been any local economic issues, or whether a recent tragedy such as a fatality has occurred at the site.
Now that you’ve prepared for your assessment, turn to what you want to bring and how you will stow it.
Equipment and supplies can be split into four categories: on the person, in the case, in the car, and supplemental or specialty items.
EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES I split equipment and supplies into four categories: on the person, in the case, in the car, and supplemental or specialty items. This discussion is simplistic in that I only refer to traveling to the site using automobiles. Many of us must fly to get to our sites domestically and internationally. Air travel offers new challenges as our equipment tends to look strange and may cause concerns for laypersons.
On the Person As an independent consultant, much of my work involves driving to client sites, so my utility vest is always hanging in my car. Along with my vest, I keep a bag containing my shoes with reinforced toes, safety glasses, a hard hat, and an N95 disposable filtering facepiece respirator. Everything can be (and usually is) donned once I arrive and before I step onto the site. The N95 might just be tucked into a pocket of the vest until I need it.
Thirty-plus years ago, wearing the uniform of a Navy industrial hygiene officer, I stuffed everything in my pockets and tried to fit the other items in a bag. I was fresh out of college and always had my bookbag with me. I quickly learned that I never had enough pockets. I looked silly, and at times my mobility was compromised. Anybody who needs to carry a lot of different items around for their work, like a photographer or a surveyor, knows that a good vest with the right pockets is invaluable.
For many years I used a fishing vest. It had a big-game pocket in the back that I could use to carry a piece of equipment or my tablet computer when going up and down a ladder or walking longer distances. Now I use a surveyor’s high-visibility vest. I can put my cellphone, a point-and-shoot camera, a water bottle, a memo pad with a pen, and some business cards in the vest.
A modern cellphone is a very powerful tool, but the more I use it for IH data collection, the harder it is to use for making calls and communicating with others. So, I continue to take photos with a good point-and-shoot camera and sometimes with my tablet computer. There are many options and no right answer, so do what works for you, and remember you can always make changes as needed.
In the Case: The IH Field Kit For my IH field kit, I use a generic 20-inch plastic tool case with a top tray that I bought about twenty years ago from Lowes or Home Depot for ten or fifteen dollars. It’s yellow so I can spot it easily. My company name is prominently written on it, and my business card is taped to the lid. That way, if anyone comes across it, they know who the case belongs to. Inside the case is a plethora of items. The top tray contains:
• pen • labels • tape measure • smoke tubes with cutter and bulb • hand sanitizer • calculator • personal business cards • business cards for specialty companies that provide services a client may need, such as ventilation, structural engineering, and IH equipment rental • scissors • forceps • sterile 2x2 gauze pads • Sharpie • light • duct tape, packing tape, and electrical tape • wipe samples • six to ten 1-quart Ziplock bags • TLV booklet • multitool utility knife • screwdrivers (both big and small, Phillips and flathead) • 120 ml of de-ionized water
At the bottom of the case are various pieces of equipment. These items are bulkier and harder to fit together:
• thermo-anemometer • sampling pump belts • wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) monitoring device • pump calibrator • vane anemometer • non-sparking scoop or brush • sound level meter or dosimeter • personal sampling pump with charger • assorted sampling media (for dust, metals, organic vapors, and so on) • sampling train (standard and low-flow) • 500 ml Nalgene bottle (wide mouth) • endoscope camera
These lists are just a basic inventory. At any given time, my case has more items than shown here. Some things get removed when I don’t think I’ll need them or if I’m making room for something else for a particular assessment.
In the Car My car is where I keep items that I use less frequently or those that I need only on a seasonal basis. I also keep some emergency items in my car. For instance, I have a supplemental charger for my tablet computer and another charger that can be used to jump a dead car battery. In case I need to make a hole in a wall for access, I have a drill and assorted drill bits, along with spackling and a putty knife to patch up afterward. For personal emergencies, I have items like a first aid kit, toilet paper, and hand wipes for cleaning up. Typically, I carry an insulated water bottle on me, but I always have a few containers of bottled water in the car.
Other items that are good to keep in the car include blankets, coats, and spare clothes. Always remember Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it probably will, at least at some point in your career and most likely when you least expect it. Be prepared.
Supplemental or Specialty Items The following items are handheld real-time detection pieces that will help you anticipate, recognize, and ultimately evaluate the hazards in the workplace:
• dust meter • 4- or 5-gas meter (oxygen, percent lower explosive limit, toxics such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide with the probe, and a photoionization detector) • indoor air quality meter (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, relative humidity, and so on) • quantitative fit-test machine • octave band analyzer (with evolving technology, this is easier than ever to transport)
Some specialty items are easier to rent than to purchase and maintain. Obviously, having rental equipment available takes planning and prior knowledge of the work site, so make that part of your preparation.
THOROUGH INVESTIGATIONS Occupational and environmental health and safety is a complex study of machines, processes, procedures, and human nature. The tried-and-true risk assessment procedure of anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control, and confirmation gives the practitioner a roadmap. The multiple facets of preparing your mind, body, vehicle, and specialty supplies will allow you to conduct thorough investigations. Ultimately, gaining valuable and timely information will help you develop cohesive and targeted interpretations. Hopefully, from this short synopsis of field preparation, you start to understand the energy you must put into your practice of OEHS.
BRYAN SEAL, PhD, CIH, CSP, CHMM, REHS/RS, is an associate professor of safety sciences at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an at-large director on the AIHA Board of Directors.
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