AIHce Movie Matinee: Blackfish – Safety when swimming with Killer Whales

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Fletcher Best

One of the many interesting sessions at AIHce was the Movie Matinee – Blackfish: Safety when Swimming with Killer Whales. As we arrived to the session, there was even popcorn and American “candy” on offer, just like the movies! The session enabled us to watch the documentary Blackfish, which was followed by a discussion about the findings presented in the movie and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administrations (OHSA) citation to SeaWorld.


For those who haven’t seen the movie, Blackfish is a documentary about the 2010 death of a SeaWorld killer whale trainer. The trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was involved in a fatal incident involving a killer whale named Tilikum, at SeaWorld’s Orlando, Florida theme park.

The documentary outlined that Tilikum had been involved in three human fatalities, the first in 1991, where a part time trainer fell into the pool that housed Tilikum and two other female killer whales. The part time trainer, Keltie Byrne, fell into the pool housing the three mammals, when they submerged her, and held her underwater, then surfaced several times with her, before she drowned. The second occurrence was in 1999, when a member of the public stayed in SeaWorld, after it closed for the night, and entered the killer whale tank. Daniel Dukes body was found draped over Tilikums body in the morning. His genitals had been bitten off, he was also covered in lacerations and contusions. The third fatality involved Brancheau, on February 24, 2010. Brancheau was Tilikums trainer, during a performance at SeaWorld, Brancheau was pulled into the pool by Tilikum. Reports of her injuries included severing of her arm, scalping, broken bones, spinal injuries and drowning.


Following this incident, OSHA conducted an investigation, where they found SeaWorld to be in violation of the Workplace Health and Safety Act. OSHA claimed that SeaWorld exposed workers to a known hazard in the workplace, i.e. Tilikum, an animal who had been involved in two prior human fatalities. SeaWorld was subsequently fined and enforced to implement the control where trainers were no longer allowed to physically interact with the killer whales, so a physical barrier was to be in place between trainers and animals at all times.  This citation was appealed by SeaWorld, however, in November 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied the appeal.


This finding by OSHA raises questions as to the responsibility of businesses to protect workers in the entertainment industry. Many of these people work with animals as part of their daily job such as in wildlife parks, theme parks, and even circus performers. Are risks adequately assessed and controlled to meet the requirements of OSHA, or in Australia, the requirements of our legislation and associated documents as published by Safe Work Australia?

Working with animals will always present an unpredictable behaviour hazard, but it does not mean that the risk should not be assessed or control measures cannot be put in place to safeguard workers. It will be interesting to see how the outcome of this investigation may impact on workplaces in Australia that have human-animal interaction.

Young Professional Development at the #AIHce

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Fletcher Best

Having recently returned from our first American Industrial Hygiene Conference (AIHce), held in San Antonio, Texas, we have been forced to look back and reflect upon our experience and learning’s with many people asking “how was it?, “what did you enjoy the most?” Well, the answer to the first question is easy. It was awesome…..to the power of RAD!!!

The second question is a little more difficult to answer, as first timers to the #AIHce we don’t know what was more daunting, the size of the conference and exhibition centre (120,773 m2 in total), the number of conference delegates (5000!) or choice of scientific programme (a small novel, 88 pages in total).

Lucky for us the AIHA recognise that the AIHce can be a little daunting and have purposefully implemented an AIHce Students and Young Professionals Programme, that includes targeted sessions and activities designed especially for young professionals at AIHce.

Firstly, when we registered we signed up as first time attendees and opted to be assigned our very own #PAL (Personal AIHce Liaison). The PAL programme has been purposefully implemented by the AIHA in effort to welcome first-time attendees and students to AIHce allowing new professional attendees and students (“First Timers”) to be matched with seasoned AIHce attendees (“PALs”).

The goal of the PAL programme is to help the first timers network with fellow professionals and provide a better overall conference experience. Our PAL’s were able to share their knowledge and expertise about AIHce and assist us to get more involved in the activities (including supporting us to deliver our #IGNITE presentations) and capitalise on the opportunities on offer.


Rob Paulson (left), a Colorado State University graduate student with PAL Stephen Chiusano (right), AIHA Fellow at the First Timer’s Orientation Session, sponsored by DuPont.

We met our PAL’S at the First Timers Orientation Session (Sponsored by DuPont), a 6:45 am breakfast prior to the official conference opening session on Monday morning.

During “orientation” we were provided with an overview of the conference and a summary of the programme designed to target young professionals and students – this assistance was more than welcome and helped us to select the activities, events and technical sessions contained within the 88 page conference programme! Including technical sessions such as:

  • The real world: Industrial Hygiene: Roundtable presentation and interactive discussion incorporating topics relevant to navigating the exciting and unique challenges that face up-and-coming young professionals where presenters provided practical advice including communication skills, knowledge application, building workplace networks, and professional support systems; and
  • Preparing for the CIH – An Insider’s Experience: Roundtable covering requirements to sit the CIH exam including information on preparation strategies and personal perspectives and lessons learned from those who were not successful initially.

That evening we attended the Future Leaders and Young Member Reception (Sponsored by 3M). When attending the reception it was obvious how passionate the AIHA members are about encouraging and developing future young hygienists. Within minutes of arrival, we had been approached by and introduced to many #hygienegods who were sincere in ‘giving back’ to the occupational hygiene profession through mentoring. We left feeling inspired and encouraged to develop ourselves into great hygienists, knowing we have the support of many #hygienegods.


(L to R) Alex Wilson, Brooke Best and Holly Fletcher at the 3M sponsored Future Leaders and Young Member Reception

The best part about participating in the events associated with the Students and Young Professionals Programme was the fact that we were introduced to so many other young hygienists, along with their PAL’s (who then became surrogate PAL’s). We were able to make real connections with so many other likeminded #younghygienists, and more importantly we felt like we had been embraced by the greater hygiene community!

So now thinking back to our experience, yes there were technical sessions, social events, #hygienegods and even a movie matinée that stood out as key highlights, however what the most enjoyable aspect of AIHce? As a young hygienist that’s easy to answer!

Without a doubt, as young hygienists and first time attendees at AIHce the most memorable aspect was the concerted effort and interaction we experienced with established and younger members of the AIHA which no doubt has, and will continue to contribute to our professional network along with strengthening our opportunities for development.


Guest bloggers #Ignite the crowd at #AIHce

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WilsonFletcher Best

Well what can we say, we lit the international fuse on the Ignite session at AIHce 2014. As three of five internationals we made the stage sizzle with our slides. As Danny and Sandy said in Grease, summer lovin’ happened so fast that as soon as we were up there it was all over again. After an adult lemonade to keep our heads focused we thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Ignite session. Following on from Kate Cole who lit the fuse in Nottingham UK at OH2014 with the long distance experience we knew we had to step it up!

We were all gob smacked at the talent on stage, first off we had Mr Roskelley who definitely needed his San Antonio ski pole to conquer Everest and what a experience he shared. Next up was Paul who gave us a great insight into aircraft maintenance with some great images, copy that Paul! Taking it old skool was the legend of Billy Bullock giving it some on OELs, FAB work Billy. The treat to come was Prof Scott with his great analogy of GHS amazing and the crowd certainly got a big San Antonio slap in the face as we were all stirred by his excellent energy and enthusiasm. Don Weekes brought us back down to the ground with a fantastic fantastic (F2) story of hygiene in pictures, definitely something to think about. No wiffleball for Dustin Rusch as he made it to stage with his injured foot, however he took the “UN” out of it using brilliant graphics.

Then our very own Brooke Best took to the stage as the first Australian rep, but she didn’t let it go to her head while she proclaimed she was H.O.T.T.!  The crowd loved her croc wrestling and multiple tattoos saying I love IH (thanks AIHA for the Tats). Holly Fletcher did not disappoint and really hit home what we do as a profession and how one person can really make a difference in your life. Theo Scheffers made good use of the stage to bring his call for hamonisation between OELs and DNELs, this discussion I am sure carried on right into the night most likely in Durty Nelly’s a key conference break out area. Alex Wilson emphasised the importance of Yorkshire but also his passion for science and grass roots education. Kids are an excitable sponge for learning and so are we, so lets soak this up and go and teach the next generation of hygienists. Mr and Mrs Klane brought the double act to the show and shared a personal story of hard work and working hard for their family and their marriage. Last but not least was the 3-peater himself the maestro Kim Merritt, no beer bongs were present on stage however Kim gave us a rush of blood to the head in igniting the passion for doing this style of presentation.

But for now, here is us on stage with our 5-minutes of fame:


How much cosmic radition do you get from flying from Sydney to Texas, USA?

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Fletcher Best

Being the #hygienenerds that they are, #fletcherandbest were thinking about the hazards that they might encounter during their trip to Texas for #AIHce2014. They tell me that they might have gotten a little side tracked consuming some G&T’s in the Qantas lounge before their flight…especially when they were sitting next to Tim Cahill! ….But they did get back to business and thankfully bring us their first blog post on the hazards of cosmic radiation that they were exposed to during their long-haul flight!


Firstly, some background: The electromagnetic spectrum includes a variety of radiation types, dependent on their wavelength, for example, radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays. Low frequency, long wavelengths are considered non-ionizing, whereas higher frequency, shorter wavelengths are classed as ionizing radiation.  Ionizing radiation has enough energy to cause chemical changes by breaking chemical bonds. X-rays and gamma rays have very high frequencies and very short wavelengths, and have enough energy to remove electrons from an atom. This process is referred to as ionisation.

nonionising rad

On earth, we are constantly exposed to radiation from space; this invisible ‘shower’ of radiation contributes to our background radiation dose. These cosmic rays consist of both low and high energy charged particles. When we are on the earth’s surface, we are protected by these rays by the earth’s atmosphere, which acts as a shield. Those who live in high altitude areas are exposed to higher levels of cosmic radiation than those at sea level.

Exposure to ionising radiation can increase when travelling in an aircraft, as the earth’s atmosphere provides less protection from cosmic radiation at altitudes around 7000 – 12000 metres – the usual travelling altitudes of commercial aircraft. The exposure depends on the altitude of the flight and the latitude of the flight from the equator, the further the flight path is away from the equator, the higher the exposure.


The dose limit of 1 mSv/year applies for all members of the public. Occupational exposures have a dose limit of 20 mSv/year; in this case, this would include people such as pilots and aircrew. ARPANSA report that studies undertaken to determine cancer risk to pilots and aircrew, show that there is no significant increased risk of cancer due to radiation exposure.

We were lucky enough to borrow Tracerco Personal Electronic Dosimeters (PEDs) to use during our flight from Sydney to Dallas to measure our gamma radiation exposure.


The results measured our dose to be 23.57 µSv, or 0.024 mSv for the duration of our flight (well, the time we were allowed to have electronic equipment operating – about 14 hours). This equates to about 2.5% of the annual dose limit of a member of the public. To reach the dose limit for the public, someone would need to fly this route 42 times in a year!

In comparison, a chest CT provides a dose of 8 mSv, a mammogram (four views) 0.7mSv, chest x-ray 0.1 mSv, or dental x-ray 0.01 mSv.

So, in the scheme of things, radiation exposure from flying, does not result in a concerning risk, however, if you were concerned, you could apply the three radiation protection principles of 1) time; 2) shielding; and 3) distance. You could choose to fly more flights over shorter distances, thereby reducing your exposure time and increasing your shielding, as shorter haul flights fly at lower altitudes, or spend shorter amounts of time at altitudes of concern.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) provides further information regarding radiation basics and cosmic radiation. Radiation doses for medical procedures can be found at the Health Physics Society Fact Sheet.

Thanks #fletcherandbest for going to the effort of measuring and assessing your dose of exposure to cosmic radiation!