Young Hygienist Snapshot: Heather Rowsell

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Heather Rowsell is an Occupational Hygienist working with 3M Australia.  Heather’s hygiene career began almost 15 years ago in Canada when, working as a lifeguard during uni, she became interested in worker health and prevention of workplace illness.  Heather moved from Newfoundland to Ontario, Canada to complete a Master’s in Occupational and Environmental Health (Occupational Hygiene) at the University of Toronto.  After completing her Masters, Heather returned home to work with the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador, and later the Government of Canada as a CBRN specialist occupational hygienist.  Heather then moved to Australia to spend more time enjoying the “lucky land” and has been working in Australia for about 6 years now.  Heather topped this all off by receiving her COH designation from the AIOH last year. What a career! I was lucky enough to finally meet Heather last week…and now you are lucky as you get to spend 5-mins with Heather also!

Best location I have worked: This is a tough one because my time in hygiene has brought me to many different and interesting places… how about Australia? Or a very remote Labradorite mine off the coast of Nain, the furthest north community in Labrador, Canada. Or one of the “G” Summits, working with the emergency response team.

The best thing about my job is: The variety – hands down.  The number of places I have visited, the people I have met (& hopefully helped), the situations I have been exposed to or involved in, the processes I have learned about… Variety is the spice of a hygienist’s life.

Career Highlight: Being one of the first three Canadians to participate in a training program involving live chemical agents, organised by the US Department of Homeland Security.  The memory of entering the training facility still stands out in my mind… there was plenty of razor wire and multiple lines of fencing to transit through.  Just before arriving at our destination I remember stopping at a gate bearing a sign stating “Lethal Force Authorized” which was flanked by soldiers holding large firearms.

People normally think my job involves: I suspect most hygienists will be familiar with these… Occupational therapist…  teaching good hand hygiene in the workplace… helping out a dentist who focuses on workers…

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: Not knowing what comes next; and being expected to have definitive answers to vague questions about scenarios lacking the necessary detail.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Assist with a project to clean up old chemical weapons in Australia.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was:  When working with OHS enforcement, I had a request to assess a worksite at a waste treatment plant where a worker had shared concern regarding conditions at a workplace.  As it turned out, this worker sat all day in a small wooden hut which was slightly elevated.  Why was it elevated? It sat above a stream of effluent that was regularly provided by the waste trucks arriving at the depot.  Best part… the worker used a “stick” to separate the more solid matter from the stream.  Needless to say this role has since been… adjusted.

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