Kate is a #hygienegod when it comes to biological monitoring. For those not familiar with biological monitoring, it involves collecting a biological sample from a worker of eg: blood, urine or breath. It assesses all routes of exposure, which includes what you breathe in, what you ingest, and what gets absorbed through the skin.
Therefore biological monitoring is a really useful tool to use to test if all the things you have in place are actually working. If your workers heavily rely on things like respirators and chemical protective clothing, then biological monitoring becomes even more important. For example: How do you know that the decontamination practices you have in place are up to scratch? How do you know if you are changing out your respirator cartridges often enough? How do you know if your workers are following the protocols they were trained in (ie: was your training effective?). If you perform biological monitoring and you get an elevated result over the biological exposure limit, then you know something is wrong. If you don’t, then you might have to wait decades until someone taps you on the shoulder and tells you they have been diagnosed with cancer. In my view, I’d rather get the testing done!
So what’s it like to finally put a face to a name you see so often in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene? It’s hard to put in to words, but I’m going to with “Fantastic”! Kate was kind enough to take some time out of her day and let me ply her with the multitude of questions I had been saving up. Here is a quick snapshot of some of these:
Q: So Kate, what is the best thing about your job?
A: The best thing is that it is eternally interesting and I feel as though I can make an actual difference in workers lives. Every situation that I get to work with is different, and using the Belfast Sewers project as an example, performing that work made a big difference in the quality of life for those workers and greatly lowered their risk of exposure, and consequently, their risk of developing occupational disease.
Q: How did it come up that biological monitoring was performed for workers on the Belfast Sewers project? Is it common place for industry to perform biological monitoring where hazardous substances are present?
A: I was originally contacted by the onsite hygienist, so the impetus really was from the company themselves to do the right thing. It can be a big challenge to communicate how important it is to use biological monitoring as a tool to control occupational exposure. Biological monitoring (with the exception of lead) is not mandatory in the UK, which would be my biggest gripe. Where the HSE recommends that certain work places to perform biological testing, then there is a greater amount of testing performed. For example, it is recommended to collect urine samples and test them for exposure to isocyanates in industries where they are present (such as automotive spray painters).
Kate was also the lead author on a paper assessing various environmental factors (temp, humidity etc) on the extent of absorption of solvent vapours through the skin. That study found that when temperature and humidity were increased, the rate of absorption of particular solvents through the skin also increased.
Q: What is your key message from that study?
A: In a way it seemed that the chemical protective clothing was actually trapping the solvent vapours within the suit, which then easily absorbed through the workers skin. This is something to be aware of and make sure that you are using the right type of chemical protective clothing for the job you are doing.
This is just a taste of the interview I was fortunate enough to have today. For more information, including Kate Jones’ tips for communicating exceeding BOELs, and tips for other young occupational hygienists, look out for the article in the next edition of OH Matters. Not a member of the AIOH? It’s easy…just join here and you’ll be on the mailing list.
If you are looking for guidance on biological monitoring, then contact your friendly occupational hygienist today!