Occupational Hygiene

Well hello, who are you?

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Custodian of the #younghygienist blog! Well I cannot guarantee I will be as funny, however I will exhaust all effort to be as enlightening as our #hygienegodintraining Kate Cole!

I would like to congratulate Kate on all that she has achieved with the blog during 2014, in particular promoting the Occupational Hygiene profession. Big shoes to fill you think? Yes, I think so!

So who am I then? I am Holly Fletcher and yes, you guessed it I am also a #younghygienist in my mid thirties. Those who know me would say I get slightly excited about all things Occupational Hygiene!

It’s hard to believe that I grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in a small farming town by the name of walcha in Northern NSW, Australia. As a child I am pretty sure I wanted to be a pop singer and by the time I reached secondary school, I was sure I wanted to be the physiotherapist for the Australian Rugby team thewallabies

I don’t know much, but one thing I do know, sometimes things don’t always work out as you expect it!

Now people will ask “how did you get “into” hygiene”? As much as I would love to say that my dad had a consulting hygienist to assist him to control workers exposure to agricultural chemicals, dusts, noise and in particular biological health hazards, and that occupational hygienist inspired me to pursue the same career path, unfortunately that is not my reality.

My story is similar to the majority of other hygienists I meet i.e. I was introduced to this career by introduction to another hygienist. Lucky for me I was inspired by a fantastic #younghygienist with a huge amount of energy and passion for her job. One day I ask her what “all the numbers meant”?  In more or less words she explained how her team performed sampling activities to collect “the numbers” which she would then use to make decisions regarding risk for purposes of protectingworkerhealth.

Like most others I really didn’t understand the whole numbers bit, however I did accompany her in the field to perform sampling and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up!

That’s when I enrolled and completed a Masters of Occupational Hygiene Practice OHP at the UoW and now I do understand the whole numbers bit!

These days, although relatively early in my career as a #younghygienist I have had some amazing experiences working with inspirational #hygienegods in some incredible locations in Australia, the United Arab Emirates and now in Laos, where I am currently working.

My intention of becoming the custodian of the #younghygienist blog for 2015 is for one reason only. That is to promote the occupational hygiene profession, not only in Australia, but globally. I don’t doubt my story about how I came to be an occupational hygienist is unique in any way; it just presents the question “how many other occupational hygienists are out there that don’t know it yet”?

In 2015 the #younghygienist blog will showcase occupationalhygiene as a career to promote the profession so we can be successful in protecting worker health.


Holly Fletcher and Kate Cole – AIOH2013

Thank you #UOW and #3M

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Back in 2010, I met a very special occupational hygienist. She was (and still is!) really up-beat and energetic – but the thing that stuck out for me, was how she was able to pretty much solve any technical scenario on foot, without having to go back to the office and spend days or weeks looking it up. This got me intrigued and when I asked her how she did this, she just said that she had just finished studying at Uni – and spent the past year listening to #hygienegods and now all that magical information was permanently implanted in her brain.

I asked her what course/ where etc and then quickly concluded that there was probably no way that I could ever do a Master’s degree living 4 hours away with a young family in tow. She saw this as no obstacle and encouraged me (repeatedly!) to apply.

So one night, glass of wine in hand, I got on the University of Wollongong website and I applied. I nearly fell over when I got accepted, and I remember that feeling of “OMG what have I done!”

I reminisce driving down for my first ever subject. It was so refreshing to use a part of my brain that I think lay dormant for a while there, and I was instantly hooked. Going back to Uni after 10 years was a bit different to how I remember it when I was younger. I revelled spending time in the library (no screaming children!) and I never actually went into the Uni bar, which was quite the change from how I remember being an undergrad science student!!

Two years flew by, and I ended up graduating last year, largely in part to having the world’s most patient husband, a very supportive employer, and a baby that didn’t mind being fed whilst I typed my thesis on my computer late at night.

Last night, I drove down to Wollongong one more time, although this time with hubby in tow, as I was honoured to receive a very special award. Somehow, amongst all the juggling of family life, I managed to top the entire Occupational Health and Safety and Occupational Hygiene programme. Whilst my brother may argue that it was a “slow year”, I’m still chuffed!

A great deal of thanks goes to the UOW for putting on a fantastic and rewarding programme, with a very special thank you to Jane Whitelaw (Head of the OHP Academic Programme) and to 3M for their support for the award. Being on the other side of the degree reinforces how lucky I was to have met an enthusiastic occupational hygienist who persuaded me to do it in the first place. Luckily for me, Holly Fletcher is also now a great friend! In return I have been doing my best at encouraging others to go back to Uni and study it also…so far I am 2 from 2.

So what about you? Have you always had an interest in science? Why don’t you apply for the next intake for the course at the University of Wollongong? The course may have changed in name, but the content is what’s important – why don’t you consider applying for the Master of Work Health & Safety over a glass of wine tonight?

Just before we left the UOW, I couldn’t resist taking the hubby to the Uni bar for the very first time. We indulged in a Corona and fish and chips…so I now feel like my University experience is truly complete.

The AIOH Canary – It Could be Yours!

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AIOH Canary

Have you always wanted to go to an AIOH Conference, but could never quite get there? Or perhaps you already know how awesome it is, but you just don’t want to pay for it next year? Well you will love the latest offering from the AIOH.

A new Prize offered by the AIOH aims to bring the best out of our members by gathering ideas on the topic of, “What is Occupational Hygiene”  or “What does an Occupational Hygienist do?”  or “What can an occupational hygienist do for your workers and the company’s bottom line?” 

Enter – The AIOH CANARY!

It doesn’t matter if you are a Student member or a Fellow member, no doubt as an Occupational Hygienist you have heard these questions at least a few times before.

Whilst we have all developed our own ways to answer this question, what we haven’t done a very good job of as a collective group is informing people of the answer so they stop asking the question!

The AIOH CANARY is all about Communicating Awareness – a New Approach Representing us on YouTube.

It involves creating a short video (less than 5-minutes) that helps answer these questions. The video might be entirely video footage, or it might be a cartoon, a narrated series of photographs or drawings – the possibilities are endless!

Entrants upload their video to YouTube and then promote it through social media using the hashtags #TheCanary and #Occupationalhygiene.

Don’t worry if you are a social media novice, and the idea of twitter sends you into a twit, the AIOH Communications Committee are eager and willing to help you.

If you think you have the best answer to the questions posed…and a video camera, then you could win yourself the AIOH CANARY.

The AIOH CANARY provides the recipient complementary registration for the 2015 AIOH Conference in Perth. The winner will be announced at the 2014 AIOH Conference by the newly elected AIOH President for 2015.

 Entries are now open for all members (Student, Associate, Provisional, Full and Fellow) and close on October 31st, 2014…so get your video cameras out and get rolling!

More details will also be available in the next AIOH Newsletter….and I’ll update you here 🙂

Do you need some inspiration to get you started? Check out this example (not an official entry…just use it for inspiration!)

Not a member of the AIOH? No problems…it’s easy to join, just click here.

What’s in a name? Occupational Hygiene: Is it time for a rebrand?

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One of the reasons why Kate started this blog was to raise the profile of occupational hygiene amongst uses of social media and possibly the younger generation who are thinking about new careers. Occupational Hygiene or Industrial Hygiene is often not recognised as the profession it actually is. I am sure most Occupational Hygienists agree that if we received a gold coin for every time someone didn’t know what we do then we would all be putting the leprechaun’s out of business.

But what is in the name really? Do we make a bigger thing of it than we need to? Should we be just focussing on making our skills known to a wider community? Should we be making sure that governments, trade bodies, organisations, senior managers, workers and even the public know what we do and the value it brings? Is a name important or is it the results that matter most?

Back in 2012 two of my colleagues and senior peers Andy Gillies and Adrian Hirst debated this in an article for the Journal Occupational Health at Work 2012; 9 (2): 30-31. The title What’s in a name? Occupational Hygiene: is it time for a rebrand? Helps show both sides of this predicament we find ourselves in as professionals.

Both authors state a good case and I ask you to make your own mind up as to what you think but I am sure you will agree that it’s what we do that matters and not what we are called, however we do need an identity, there you go I am still undecided.

It the UK there are around 1-million people who suffer from some form of work related ill-health, the latest stats from the UK HSE say that 12,000 people died last year of work related ill health. So there still in a great need for occupational / industrial hygienists. Let’s persuade people to see value in what we do and then they will know who we are. The decision is yours!

#BOHS14 – The roundup

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The 2014 BOHS Conference sadly draws to a close today. It was a fantastic and worthwhile conference and I have learnt a lot both from the technical sessions, and from meeting the many delegates who were kind enough to share their thoughts and stories with me. In the coming weeks I’ll delve more into the details on the topics covered, but for now, I thought I’d share some of the key highlights from my perspective:

Warner Lecture

The Warner Lecture was provided by Major Phil Ashby, a royal marine who has won a Green Beret and a Commando medal for bravery. He gave an incredibly moving story of his fight for survival deep in the heart of Sierra Leone and almost being killed several times. It was very comforting though when he started his talk and told us that out of all he has been through, that he was still terrified of public speaking!

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Bedford Medal

Professor John Cherrie won the 2014 Bedford Medal and presented his talk, “Get a Life”. He discussed charting people’s exposure from their birth to their death, in a term known as the “exposome”. This includes the processes internal to the body such as metabolites, gut microflora, inflammation etc; through to external infectious agents or chemical contamination; through to social, economic, and psychological influences.

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Professor Cherrie introduced us to “omics biomarkers”, which are tools that can be used to measure exposure. The use of “citizen science” is growing, largely due to convenient and affordable (or free) apps on our smart phones, or other small devices that can measure eg: CO2 exposure in our homes, or the number of steps we take in a day. The idea is that we can use these omics biomarkers to understand people’s behaviours and then get a better understanding of their exposure. He stressed the importance of calibrating these omics biomarkers to other standardised equipment to understand their limitations. Professor Cherrie’s key messages were that we need to be aware of the possibilities that these omics biomarkers provide, and although accuracy and precision aren’t everything, the tools do need calibration. The ability to track location and behaviour will provide new data that will help us understand exposures, so we need to be aware that the citizen science revolution is coming! Professor Cherrie was kind enough to share his slides on social media here. You might also like to follow his blog as he provides a fantastic (much more technically interesting) blog here also.

Crystalline Silica

As is always the challenge with large conferences, I was then faced with the dilemma of wanting to go to all three concurrent sessions at the same time. The winner was Crystalline Silica, which was one of the most interesting concurrents I had been to in a long time, so it was a win for me! One thing that I noticed that happened at the British conference that I have not seen before at the Australian conference, was the Regulatory Authority (the HSE in the UK), were present  both as delegates and as presenters, which provided great context to the information presented.

The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) had performed an intervention in the brickmaking and stonemaking industry, with the aim of reducing exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The intervention was basically like a research project to figure out what the common issues were in those industries, so that targeted interventions could be made that would result in less exposure to workers. This is in comparison to the Regulatory enforcement agency just walking in and fining everyone, as the former is more likely to be effective at controlling exposure in the long-term. The HSL discussed common issues surrounding secondary saws and improvements needed in water suppression, opportunities for better enclosures and operator segregation, incorrect use of local exhaust ventilation (LEV), and a poor understanding of the health risk involved with the status quo. To address this, the HSL provided feedback to each of the many sites visited, developed training material to increase awareness, consulted with industry groups, and aims to re-visit these sites next year to asses the effectiveness of their intervention.

The HSL had also performed a study on long latency health risks in foundries, where exposures to over 250 workers were measured. They found that common issues existed surrounding LEV design and testing, respiratory supply and fit-testing, and that some of the foundries still performed dry sweeping or used compressed air to clean out moulds. When you do either of these things, the dust containing crystalline silica will be in the air and therefore easier to inhale and consequently increases your risk of developing respiratory disease and cancer.

For a different perspective, Dr David Fishwick who works in the NHS (the health service) presented a paper on the health aspects of crystalline silica. The HSE are currently funding research into a 5-year health study to understand the prevalence of respiratory disease associated with crystalline silica. It was performed over a large geographical area spread across the UK and identified over 300 workers exposed to crystalline silica. Of those, a large proportion of workers had reported respiratory complaints such as cough, chest-tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and/or silicosis.

To round out the session, the Regulator (the HSE) provided their perspective on the current strategic research. It was refreshing to hear the regulator explain that the surveys and research performed always carried the possibility for possible enforcement, but it was essential that they keep such voluntary surveys workable and continue to rely on industry cooperation mediated through trade associations. Effective and proactive communication was essential to the success of the programs being performed. Basically as I understand it, if the HSL finds issues that are potentially in breach of the Regulations, then they explain that to the company and provide them a report stating what needs to be done. The company is then given a time-limit (around 2 weeks or so) to address the issues before enforcement can occur. The HSE reported that this approach was beneficial and has been working well with representative groups.

Keynote Lectures

Dr Noah Sexias provided a great discussion on the advances in exposure assessment and control for welding fume. In addition to the various hazards faced by welders (such as acute injuries, musculoskeletal issues, electrical burns, and UV radiation), gases and fumes from welding can result in many ill-health effects. These range from respiratory disease such as siderosis and COPD, through to lung cancer (presumably from hexavalent chromium or other metals) and neurological disorders caused from exposure to manganese (known as “manganism“).

Presumably predicting that we had been faced with slide-fatigue, Gerard Hand  (IOSH Past President) gave an engaging 45 minute talk without any PPT slides (or notes I might add!). In a very real, yet humorous way, Gerard taught us to always ask, “Is there anything dodgy about that?” when doing a risk assessment. His point was that unless you engage with the workforce and understand what they are doing and ask about their problems and ideas, then it’s highly unlikely that the risk assessment is not going to be accurate or effective.


This session was great…and no, not just because I was in it! From learning about all there is about Radon gas from Damien Boyd, to Dougie Collin igniting the independence debate in full Scottish kilt, to the tale of Green Eggs and Ham by Mary Fitzgerald, learning the wrongs of LEV discharge stacks from Bill Williams, and learning the occupational hygiene considerations when confiscating marijuana by Kelvin Williams, there was never a dull moment!


Another great item at the British conference that I have not seen before at the Australian conference was the various workshops held throughout the conference. I attended a fantastic workshop facilitated by Alex Wilson on professional skills for occupational hygienists, and a packed-out interactive workshop which aimed to bring real positive change for workers at risk of occupational lung disease such as workers in the construction industry, welders, spray painters, and bakers.


I love a good poster. Dr Latham Ball won the prize for best poster, and deservedly so. He is currently working with a team of others (including Kate Jones) to develop a low-cost rapid test kit to measure exposure to benzene through biological monitoring.  Biological monitoring is very important to assess exposure to benzene as it can be absorbed both through the skin and also inhaled. At the moment in Australia, it can take several weeks for these results to come back, which is tricky if the results are high and you have just figured out that your workers were not protected for the past two weeks. A quick low-cost test would help track just how effective your control measures are without having to cross your fingers while you wait for the results to come back.


Social Events

Some would say the highlight of the conference is the networking and various social events on offer, and BOHS14 did not disappoint. Being held in Nottingham, It was always going to be compulsory for Robin Hood to join us.  We were treated to a night with the Sherrif of Nottingham, a court jester, and of course, Mr Hood himself.

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This was my very first BOHS conference and I came here knowing only a handful of people (some I had only ever spoken to via email!), but it was a warm, encouraging, and inviting atmosphere. To be honest, I had to do a double-take sometimes as I felt as though I could have been at the AIOH Conference surrounded by old friends, it was that familiar.

Of course there were many other sessions at the conference that were amazing including Legionella control, occupational hygiene considerations in hydraulic fracking, and many others. Each one provided a great wealth of information and were engaging. If you need an excuse to go to London (who needs an excuse?), you’ll just have to attend the next conference which is held between April 25th-30th in 2015. Next year, the BOHS is extra-fortunate to hold their conference in conjunction with IOHA, which means it will be even bigger, and even better than this years…if that is at all possible!

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).