Looking for a Career: How about industrial hygiene?

Industrial hygienists from Oregon at the 2011 NW Northwest Occupational Health Conference.

Most industrial hygienists have spent time explaining to others just what it means to be an ‘IH.’ My daughter recently admitted to me that a friend of hers refers to me as a security guard because of a botched explanation.

Even the Wikipedia definition is cumbersome defining industrial hygiene as “the art and science of the identification, evaluation and control of environmental stressors in or arising in the workplace that may result in injury, illness, impairment or affect the well being of workers…”

Last week 200 industrial hygienists representing Oregon, Washington and a bit of Montana gathered for our annual occupational health conference, this year in Pasco Washington, and sponsored by the Pacific NW Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. This event is always a great mix of those of us who’ve been in the field for a long while, many of us having studied together decades ago – together with current students in the industrial hygiene programs at the University of Washington and Montana Tech.

Mike Smith (left) receives 2011 Distinguished Industrial Hygienist Award, given by Greg Baker.

Many of us learned about lead foundries and heavy manufacturing in our studies and internships back then. While today’s students do learn about those early case studies of exposure, today it’s more likely for all of us to be tasked to evaluate and control hazards related to nanoparticles, indoor environmental quality and ergonomics.

Last week the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released its National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce. A key finding within this report is that “future national demand for occupational safety and health services will significantly outstrip the number of professionals with the necessary training, education, and experience to provide such services.”

As I looked around at the attendees at last week’s conference, still remembering when it was me and my colleagues who were the somewhat nervous and excited graduate students, I was excited to see newer, younger faces joining our profession. Maybe we could even increase those numbers if we could find a more effective way to describe who we are and what we do.

Watch this video, to learn more about what it means to be an industrial hygienist.

2 responses to “Looking for a Career: How about industrial hygiene?

  1. This is a fantastic post. Describing IH in a way that is understandable, appealing – and hopefully inspiring – to future professionals is key.

    The National Assessment finding is particularly concerning given that the NIOSH Funded ERCs, like the NWCOHS, have been proposed for termination by the Obama Administration because they have succeeded in their initial objective of training professionals in the field. Clearly, future demands for IH and other OHS professionals only promise to increase in the future so along with inspiring new generations of professionals, we need to assure the funding is available to train them and offer continuing education in the field.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Sean. Yes, the proposal for termination of the NIOSH funded ERCs is very concerning. Many of the attendees at the conference noted above, including myself, were recipients of this funding. It is difficult to imagine replacing all those who will retire, not to mention filling new opportunities, without such a program.

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