Driving through Oregon’s remarkable Columbia River Gorge, including areas slowly recovering from last summer’s fire, I felt deep gratitude. I was returning home from the Blue Mountain Occupational Safety and Health Conference in Pendleton – an annual event that has grown in both numbers and sophistication since its earliest days. I felt grateful to have almost fallen into this career three decades ago, joining others around the world who work to create and sustain safer and healthier work. Although I knew I was interested in environmental health, it was the industrial hygiene class during my first graduate term, taught by University of Washington’s Tony Horstman and Michael Morgan, that drew me. The class content, and perhaps my classmates. For in truth, a big part of job satisfaction depends on friends and colleagues – old and new – who we meet along the way. Because no matter our personal differences, it is what we value most that brings us together.
This thinking led to me to create a few tips for those in, or considering a profession in, safety and health:
- Consider a career in workplace health, safety and well-being. It’s not our parents’ workplace and the challenges workplaces face will neither stay the same or get boring. You will be pushed to further all of your skills and talents. Choose the path that works for you by learning a technical skill or trade, and developing safety and health knowledge to acquire more safety responsibility, or go to graduate school and become an industrial hygienist or a safety professional. Or branch out into occupational heath nursing, medicine or psychology. In the end, it is critical that we share our expertise with all disciplines, and work together.
- If you’ve been around the block and are feeling “stale” – reach out to those newer in the field. Share a cup of coffee, listen and learn, offer advice, or brainstorm new opportunities. Mentor, volunteer, and give back whether with a professional association or something entirely different.
- Connect and network. My deep and lasting friendships with others in this profession have kept me happy in what I do, among both those I work with, and those I see only occasionally. Make time to continue these connections, for not only will it increase your enjoyment of what you do, but it widens your reach for technical advice. Our field is so broad we cannot all own the same knowledge and skill set.
- If you are an employer or supervisor: support professional advancement opportunities. Being active in our professional associations, be it AIHA, ASSE, AAOHN, or others, is critical to our ability to entertain new ideas, learn about other successes and defeats, and move one’s organization to its highest level. In this time of too much work and not enough staff, we still must support continuing education of safety and health professionals.
- And what if, no matter what you do, you don’t find the right fit in your job? Not all employers commit equally to workplace safety and health. Sometimes it happens that to protect our own interests we have to move on. Ideally, we have tried everything within our capability to help our organization move the needle to positively improve work conditions. In that case, yes, there are many opportunities today. Figure out what it is you want, look around, network, and hopefully, in the end if you do leave, tell your employer why.
Stay safe and motivated out there. We look forward to continuing our work together in the interests of safety, health and well-being.