best job in the world

Young Hygienist Snapshot: Al Threlfall

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Al is an Occupational Hygienist, a graduate of the University of Newcastle, and is currently completing the MSc OHP at the UOW. Al has worked in some pretty rare and remote regions of Australia, and always has a fresh perspective on things…which also makes him an interesting tweeter! Follow him at his new home @topendhygienist Here is 5 mins with Al:

Best location I have worked: Nothing stands out but I love going to new places and seeing how things are done, I’ve now worked on large open cut mines, 1.5 km underground, on huge processing plants and in important public buildings.  I’m now on one of the largest construction projects in the country as the only hygienist.

The best thing about my job is: that its a lot like myth busters, there are so many things people think will hurt them but in reality the things they don’t worry about are the things they should worry about. Using science as a hygienist, I can help people see the real problems.

Career Highlight:  In terms of actually doing hygiene work, would be being able to show that installation of exhaust filters on underground plant dramatically reduced DPM exposure backing up an expensive call by management to put people before the budget. [Technical Note: DPM = Diesel Particulate Matter, a carcinogen]

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: weird hours and people not being totally cooperative.

People normally think my job involves: how clean surfaces are. You know that look when people think they know what you do, but aren’t too sure, and wonder why anyone would do what they are thinking it is.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: crawl around the hidden spaces and back collections for a number of our museums and galleries.  I got to see a lot of stuff that the general public wouldn’t get the opportunity to see as well as having the curators as the tour guide.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: take samples of sewerage at a dog pound.

The best part of a career in hygiene is: the other hygienists. Even though we quite often work for competitors, the collaboration between us is amazing. I know I can pick up the phone and talk to someone else that understands my problems and talk through it with them.  I haven’t met a hygienist yet that turns their back on another hygienist.

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Young Hygienist Snapshot: Holly Fletcher

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Holly is one of those incredibly energetic people that exude enthusiasm wherever she goes…and you can’t help but get caught up in it all. She is a Specialist Occupational Hygienist, fellow MSc OHP graduate of the UOW, owner of OHRM, and recently scooped up the 2013 AES Post Graduate Scholarship Award for her upcoming research on health risks in the coal seam gas industry.

Holly is my first “go-to” person I call on for advice when hygiene gets really tricky…like finding elemental mercury, with various other hazardous chemicals, in a small area, on an exceptionally hot day…a really long way away from anywhere where there could be a decontamination unit. Those times.

Here is 5 mins with Holly:

Best location I have worked: Abu Dhabi – In 2011 I was provided the most amazing opportunity to consult to a Abu Dhabi government company executing a $200 Billion gas development project (yes, you read correct … $200 billion!).

The best thing about my job is: There are actually three things that make my job the best.  1) I learn something new every single day; 2) I have the best professional colleagues who continually inspire me beyond belief; and 3) I get to go out into the field and talk to workers and learn all about their jobs. Some characters are a little crazy – just last week a man at an underground mine in Cobar gave me the nickname ‘Blondie’ – –  I had only been onsite for a little over 2 hours.

Career Highlight: The opportunity to be mentored by Dr Brian Davies.  One in a million opportunity!

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: Being awesome!  (at least she is honest!)

People normally think my job involves: Sampling dust – my nickname at another site was “the dust lady”.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Participate as a member on the 2013 AIOH conference committee – all young hygienists need to put their hand up and participate as volunteers and contribute back to the Hygiene profession.  The learning, networking and development opportunities are just sitting there waiting…

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Coordinate the clean up of a raw effluent spill.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t 40 odd degrees and at the end of shift where 300 people were trying to retrieve their tags from the underground tag board – there was sh*t everywhere!

Holly Fletcher

Check Your Hygiene: Heat Stress

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Check Your Hygiene

What? Heat Stress is the impact a worker feels from doing their work – including environmental factors (temperature, humidity, radiant heat etc) and clothing requirements.

What can happen? Work involving hot temperatures can lead to workers feeling physical discomfort through to conditions that are life threatening. These can include muscle cramps and dizziness, heat rash, dehydration, fainting, increased heart and breathing rate, weakness and lack of energy, poor performance / increased response time, and becoming moody and short tempered (I admit sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference if you already have moody and short tempered people!!). If untreated, this can lead to more the more serious stage of ‘heat stroke’, which occurs when the body’s temperature rises above 39oC. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can result in death.

Are some people at a higher risk of developing a heat-induced illness? Yes! These include workers who are physically unfit, overweight or obese, the elderly, and those with heart conditions. People who are not ‘acclimatised’ to the work environment, or are not adequately hydrated (ie: haven’t had enough water) also stand at a higher risk. Some medications can also affect the ability of workers to maintain their core body temperature.

What can I do to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses? Quite a lot actually! Why not try to get rid of the source of heat such as shielding of radiant sources if that’s applicable. You can increase the airflow to the working area, you can use air conditioning, maybe think about starting work early in the cooler part of the day and use naturally shaded areas. Cut down on the amount of coffee you drink, and stay clear of energy drinks and alcohol the night before. You could also consider work-rest regimes and rotating with co-workers so the work load is shared.

One of the most important aspects of preventing heat stress is to make sure that you are aware of the signs and symptoms and know how to control it – so stay hydrated (ie: drink plenty of water) and work at a self-paced level – don’t overdo it!

Where can I go for more information? Ask your friendly Occupational Hygienist!

Young Hygienist Snapshot: Simon Worland

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The first AIOH Conference I attended was in 2011, which is when I watched Simon get up and accept the Drager Young Hygienist Award. At the time I was thinking how awesome it would be to win it and get to travel to Europe and meet such amazing people. I am still excited about the opportunity (6 weeks and counting!) – and Simon has actually lived through it and 3 years later still has the smile on his face!

Simon is a fellow UOW graduate and Certified Occupational Hygienist. He is also an all-round lovely person and from experience will go out of his way to offer help wherever possible, which gives me a lot to live up to! He works in the mining industry and focuses on reducing exposure during the design phase of projects (also known as the most effective phase!). Simon’s key interests are biological monitoring and dermal exposure…here is 5 mins with Simon:

Best location I have worked: Mount Isa in North Queensland where every day is just another day in Occupational Hygiene paradise.

The best thing about my job is: I get to help people and improve workplace conditions.

Career Highlight: Getting Senior Management to agree to a series of engineering controls I recommended. The controls made into the budget and a schedule was put in place for their implementation.

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to…. Justifying what you say and write with facts.

People normally think my job involves…Cleaning toilets and washing hands!

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was…Embark on some Industrial Tourism in Europe!

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was….Cave in from a position I believed in to satisfy an “important” person.

Did you cave? No way!


Young Hygienist Snapshot: Carmen Smith

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The lucky first in the series of the Young Hygienist Snapshot is Carmen Smith! Carmen is one of those people who can do it all. She is an exercise physiologist, she has completed a MSc research degree under a OHS Scholarship, and because she knows how awesome being a hygienist is, she is currently completing her MSc at the UOW in Occupational Hygiene Practice. Did I mention she also scooped up an Award at the recent AIOH Conference? Perfect start to kick off the series I say….so here is 5 mins with Carmen:

Best location I have worked:  I would have to say presenting research at the International Society for Respiratory Protection in Boston 2012.  I am going to call it work (but I had the time of my life!) I stayed at the Boston Park Plaza (home of the Red Socks), watched some baseball and visited the JFK museum!

The best thing about my job is: That every day is different.  My colleague likes to compare it to CSI in the workplace.

Career Highlight: Completing a Masters in Research (Carbon dioxide rebreathing in respiratory protective devices: influence of speech and work rate in full-face mask).  It provided the opportunity to work with some real rock stars in Occupational Hygiene (Jane Whitelaw, Brian Davies and John Henderson).

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to…..people thinking your a dental hygienist.  I have no skills here whatsoever.

People normally think my job involves…something to do with Health….but not teeth…

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was…start a Masters degree in Occupational Hygiene Practice at the University of Wollongong.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was….Bitrex qualitative fit test [Bitter tasting chemical used when fit testing respirators]. That is all.

Carmen Smith

Nottingham, UK

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Sherwood Forest,Robin Hood Statue. - Picture of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
This photo of Sherwood Forest is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Apart from the compulsory visit to Sherwood Forest, this great city seems to have a lot on offer…Apparently Nottingham is one of six dedicated Science Cities. I wonder what this means exactly. Can I use acronyms in regular conversation? Do they precisely measure the volume of a medium cappuccino with no sugar to the nearest ml and is the quality repeatable on a daily basis? Do kids at school not have to learn Humanities? Do they run around on electric-powered Segways? Sounds like a wonderful place to me. I am even more excited now.

Why Blog?

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Good question.  Why not just go about life off-line. Why do you need to write and why do you want people to read it? Being a scientist, I’m going to take that question as, ‘What is your aim?’. Glad you asked.

Aim No. 1: To increase the profile of Occupational Hygienists. Picture this. I go to the park with my kids and a fellow mum says to me, ‘what do you do for a job?’ I say, ‘Occupational Hygienist’. I watch her eyes glaze over as she pictures me cleaning teeth or cleaning toilets.  The topic changes. I started at the grass roots with my 7-year old and I had her convinced to be an Occupational Hygienist when she grew up for a few months.  Now when she grows up she wants to marry Harry from One-Direction.  I remain hopeful of a change.

Aim No. 2. To encourage others to take up Occupational Hygiene as a career. There aren’t many of us…yet it has to be one of the most interesting and rewarding careers you can have. If more people knew about it, more people would become one!

Aim No. 3. I am lucky enough to travel to the UK in April this year as part of winning an awesome award. I want to show other Occupational Hygienists just how awesome the award is, and of course – thank the wonderful sponsor (Drager) and facilitator (AIOH).