When I met Prescillia Chua “Percy” recently in Salt Lake City at #AIHce2015 I didn’t have to spend much time with her to know she has a remarkable amount of energy and a true zest for life.
Percy received a Bachelors of Science from the University of Alberta, majoring in Laboratory Medicine. And after working as a scientist in the Provincial Laboratories through the SARS epidemic, she decided that her social skills muscle needed more flexing. This lead Percy to research occupations that better meshed science and people and, as a result, she completed her Masters in Occupational Health at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Percy’s work journey has been an adventure ever since and includes the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta (apparently majority of Canadian OH’s do their time there!) to the provincial healthcare system, to her current position as an Occupational Hygiene Officer with WorkSafeBC – – – the British Columbia provincial regulator of OHS.
Volunteer-wise, Percy has served on the board of the AIHA BC-Yukon local section for several years, including a term as President. Percy is currently the Western Director on the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists (the equivalent of the ABIH in Canada).
So here’s 5 mins with Percy:
1. Best location I have worked: Is it cheesy to say my current location? Vancouver, British Columbia has warm summers, mild winters with endless access to the ocean and outdoors. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to work and live!
2. The best thing about my job is: As part of my job, I have the opportunity to observe a variety of work sites. Every day is a field trip. I’ve seen OH issues like heat stress in a chocolate factory churning out sweets for the Halloween rush, biohazard issues in an abattoir during “pig day”, noise concerns in coffee roaster during packaging, carbon dioxide exposures during fermentation in a craft brewery (can you tell my passion is food?). I’m privileged to interact with front-line workers to ask poignant questions, and ensure that individuals in the workplace remain safe while they do their job.
3. Career Highlight: Pressing the “submit” button on the online CIH exam, agonizingly watch the progress bar run across the screen… and receiving my CIH on my first go!
4. If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: The variety of work, and thinking “on your toes”. No day is the same, despite any scheduling – I could be sitting in a pre-construction meeting for a development, and then get called to respond to an emergency release of a hazardous substance, or investigating an occupational disease claim in chicken coops or examining thermal stress in steel foundry workers. It’s difficult to prepare for such a variety of situations, so quick thinking and being a modern-day MacGyver is important. Lesson learned: duct tape should be in any OH’s arsenal of field resources!
Also, be ready to respond to glazed looks or scrunched faces when asked “what do you do?”… which leads to the next question
5. People normally think my job involves: Breaking down the words “Occupational Hygienist” and “Occupational Health”, people think one of three things:
- “Occupational” must have something to do with physiotherapy
- “Hygienist” must do with cleaning teeth (or armpits!)
- “Health” must mean inspecting food facilities for health violations.
6. The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Have I mentioned my passion for food? I enjoy learning about how food travels “from farm to table” and how our food is made and processed. Any time I’ve had the opportunity to work with the food industry has been a bonus for me.
7. The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Respond in the middle of the night to a death in the workplace. Luckily the fatality was from pre-existing cardiovascular issues (not from an OH exposure) – however this incident wasn’t all that bad considering it could have been much worse; I’ve yet to attend a gruesome fatality (knock on wood!)