KAY BECHTOLD is assistant editor of The Synergist
She can be reached at or (703) 846-0737.
Editor’s note: The individuals featured in this series were selected from responses to a survey that AIHA conducted in 2014. For background, see "The IH Hero Gap" in the January 2015 issue. When you get right down to it, Jeff Burton joined AIHA because of the logo. The year was 1968, and the association’s trademark featured a laboratory retort, an X-ray tube, and a centrifugal fan. Burton had studied both mechanical engineering and industrial hygiene engineering, and he identified strongly with the fan in the logo, a symbol of ventilation. “That’s what attracted me originally,” he says. “I thought, ‘Here’s an association with a whole bunch of engineers.’” At the time, Burton says, about 25 percent of IHs had degrees in engineering, and the designation “IHE”—Industrial Hygiene Engineer—was common on resumes. Engineering was part of Burton’s professional identity, and the engineering aspects of industrial hygiene—specifically, ventilation—would become his life’s work. In 1982 he established his own consultancy, IVE Inc., in Salt Lake City, which he still operates today. Ventilation is the bulk of his business and a hallmark of his legacy, which includes a host of honors from AIHA and the acclaim of his peers. In the 2006 Donald E. Cummings Memorial Lecture at AIHce, the late Steve Levine placed Burton among the pioneers of the field of ventilation. “Jeff has led the way in both the United States and on a global scale," Levine said. "He, more than most, understood, taught, and applied the hierarchy of interventions.” Today, the engineering-heavy association Burton joined has evolved along with the IH profession itself. Burton estimates that only five percent of current industrial hygienists have engineering degrees, although engineering remains essential to the profession as the first line of protection in the hierarchy of controls. “Ventilation controls are required in every human occupancy, regardless of any other controls used,” Burton says. “Every IH must have acquired ventilation competency or have access to ventilation engineering expertise to effectively control airborne exposures.” A CHANGING PROFESSION The falling number of IHs with engineering degrees is one of several demographic trends that have significantly altered the face of the profession. Early in Burton’s career, many IHs worked in “heavy” industry at smelters, foundries, factories, mills, mines, and machine shops to evaluate and control health hazards and exposures for industrial workers. Silicosis, kidney failure, lead poisoning, dermatitis, hearing loss, and other health problems were the order of the day. As those problematic overexposures were resolved, and much of the United States’ domestic heavy industry moved off-shore, many IHs found themselves working in new settings such as high-tech firms, food processors, laboratories, commercial establishments, insurance companies, and government agencies. “Dealing with indoor air quality issues in commercial buildings has become a big part of our work,” Burton adds. “We are also much more involved in OHS management programs at home and abroad. And we also concern ourselves now with comfort as well as health—adequate temperature, humidity, odor control, and air movement in the work environment.” These changes raise an important question: how can AIHA best serve a profession with so many differing emphases? As Burton became a leader in the field, serving two separate terms on AIHA’s Board of Directors, he sought to address this issue by trying to build as big a tent as possible for the many faces of IH.
An Engineer at Heart AIHA Past President Seeks a Bigger Tent for IH