young hygienist snapshot

Young Hygienist Snapshot: Alex Wilson [INTERNATIONAL EDITION!]

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Welcome to the international edition of Young Hygienist Snapshot!

A graduate of the University of Bradford and the University of Nottingham, Alex is currently the Manager for REACH and Chemicals Policy at Tata Steel. He is also the chair of the BOHS Annual Conference Committee, he was incredibly fortunate to be selected to attend the AIHA Future Leaders Institute in the USA in 2011, and he was just awarded the 3M Young Hygienist of the Year Award in the UK which means that he gets an all-expenses paid trip to the US version of the conference – the AIHce! Here is 5-mins with Alex:

Best location I have worked: Well as I am a steel industry boy I have got to say in a steel plant where you have ladles full of 300 tonnes of liquid steel being moved around like it was a meccano set. The sheer scale of it is amazing and from a hygienists perspective it is also a very interesting environment to be in.

The best thing about my job is: At the moment I have such a varied job. I get to network with a great number of people at a global level which is very enjoyable. I also get to work with people from different backgrounds, sectors, and organisations.

Career Highlight: This is a tough one. I guess there are different highlights for different things. I have had the opportunity to speak in the European Parliament, I have worked as part of a number of teams ensuring compliance for the company for a number of pieces of legislation, the latest one being REACH. From a development perspective I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the AIHA Future Leaders Institute which was a fantastic experience for me.

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: working hard, learning hard, negotiating hard and continually progressing.

People normally think my job involves: cleaning toilets and inspecting food preparation and cooking establishments.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Not an easy answer here. I am going to go with a profession aspect and say something I am currently working on, which is to chair the IOHA London 2015 conference organising committee. This is a massive international conference in occupational hygiene and worker health protection and I am determined to give it my all to make sure it is a massive success for the profession as a whole.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Make a decision to shut down a steel rolling mill due to an asbestos related incident. This cost the company a significant amount in loss of production but the risk to the employees was greater so that decision had to be made.


Young Hygienist Snapshot: Brooke Best

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Brooke is an Occupational Hygiene Advisor and is currently completing her Masters degree at Edith Cowan University. Brooke is based in the NT, which makes her a HOTTie (Hygienists Of The Territory). Collectively known as the ‘HOTTies’, the group was established as a way to support each other in that remote part of Australia. Anyone can become a HOTTie, it doesn’t matter if you’re not working in the NT, they’ll let you be HOTT by association! Check out their Facebook page ‘HOTT – Hygienists of the Territory’, and their Linkedin page ‘Hygienists of the Territory (H.O.T.T)’.

So here is 5-mins with Brooke: 

Best location I have worked: The extent of my OH career has been working for Rio Tinto in Weipa and currently in Jabiru. I love that I get to experience remote areas of Australia where I would probably never have visited. Currently living in Jabiru, I get to explore Kakadu National Park after work and on weekends as it is my backyard. Luckily I love the outdoors and Kakadu has some of the best fishing in Australia. Hopefully I can catch a metre barra this year!

The best thing about my job is: The close-knit OH community. Everyone is so passionate and generous with their knowledge. Also love the diversity of the role. It can never be boring. Who would have thought I’d get to work at a Uranium Mine?

Career Highlight: Over a few local beverages at the 2012 Adelaide AIOH Conference, myself and some fellow NT based Hygienists came up with the idea to start our own ‘gang’ of NT Hygienists – HOTT (Hygienists of the Territory).

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: Your liver getting a workout during the Annual AIOH Conference [Side note: see bottom photo for the annual 3M night dress-up theme!!]

People normally think my job involves: making sure everyone has washed their hands – “No germs on me!”.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: I’m really looking forward to starting my Masters project this year through Edith Cowan University – hopefully on a heat stress related topic.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Nothing too bad yet, sometimes there are early mornings, extremely hot days (lucky I know how to manage my heat stress).


Young Hygienist Snapshot: Gillian Felton

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Gillian is a Certified Occupational Hygienist based in WA with South West Occupational Health Services. She was awarded a postgraduate scholarship to complete the MSc OHP program at UOW, of which she graduated last year. Gillian gets to work in some remote (yet wonderful!) locations. She is an all-round lovely person, and always has some interesting stories to share of her experiences.

So here is 5-mins with Gillian:

Best location I have worked: I’ve been pretty lucky as a consultant to have had the chance to work in a variety of places and industries ranging from exploration, mining, refining, oil & gas, construction as well as conducting work for small workshops and industries. Each one has its own unique challenges, positives and negatives, making it hard to choose the best location. But I would have to say that when I get a job that requires me to go to the Pilbara it’s a good start, because that is just some of the most spectacular countryside that puts a smile on my face at the start of everyday.

The best thing about my job is: Getting out there with the workers and meeting lots of different people. You get to hear lots of interesting life stories – it’s not always about work  🙂

Career Highlight: Sitting and passing the COH exam – One of the best and most nerve racking experiences. [Side note: To become a Certified Occupational Hygienist, which is the highest level of professional expertise, you need to sit an oral exam in front of a minimum of three other COHs. It’s only available to sit once per year, and I agree it’s a very nerve racking experience!]

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: People running away from you…I’m sure that I should have a complex by now …how to make a guy run in the other direction show him a dust pump or noise dosimeter.

People normally think my job involves: Ensuring that they have washed their hands after being to the toilet. As I have just shaken your hand introducing myself, I am really hoping that you have washed your hands.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Each job has its parts that make it interesting, but I would have to say that I enjoy working on shutdowns – they are long hours and hard work, but I work as part of a great team, I get to climb all over the process units testing for contaminants to ensure that it is safe for the workers, and implement the appropriate controls for what I find. As part of this work, I am out there talking to the workers, educating them about what I’m finding, the risks and what we’re doing, I also get to see inside vessels, exchangers and columns that are not part of the normal routine maintenance and therefore I can learn so much about the processes and hazards. As a side to this, I also tend to get very fit quickly with all the climbing and walking!


Gillian (on the right demonstrating her sense of humour!)


Young Hygienist Snapshot: Kristy Thornton

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Kristy is an Occupational Hygienist and fellow MSc OHP graduate of the UOW. She is based in Sydney, but gets to travel around to all sorts of weird and wonderful sites across Australia. Typical hazards that Kristy manages include heat stress, noise, volatile organic compounds such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, diesel exhaust gases, and diesel particulate. She also has the enviable task of currently being based at a remediation site with arguably one of the best-views in Australia…and she is also extra lucky as she gets to work for Thiess!

So here is 5-mins with Kristy:

Best location you have worked: A gasworks site in Neutral Bay. Great location for a remediation site, and always something new and challenging to learn. There is never a dull moment on a remediation site (lots of hazards!)

The best thing about my job is: The variety of sites and projects I have been able to work on. I love seeing and learning how things are done whether it be remediation sites, water recycling plants, mines or tunnels.

Career Highlight: Graduating with my Masters from UOW and presenting at the AIOH conference all in the same year. It’s going to be hard to top this year but I am up for the challenge.

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: Thinking on your feet and rolling with the punches…it’s not for the faint hearted but it’s one hell of a ride.

People normally think my job involves: Teaching people to wash hands, or general safety work…little do they know its MUCH cooler than that 🙂

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Conduct a thermal stress assessment using physiological monitoring on a group of workers in a difficult working environment. I learnt a lot during the process and it has given me the confidence to look outside the box for the answers as the issue and associated controls sometimes aren’t as obvious as you may have thought.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Work in a tyvek suit and full face respirator during the summer months, but I wouldn’t change anything about my job!


Young Hygienist Snapshot: Peter Aspinall

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Pete is a Senior Occupational Hygienist…and like me, can struggle to meet the definition of  “young” sometimes…but I figured as I was calling myself “young” – I should call Pete “young” too!

Pete initially got into the Occupational Hygiene world from assisting the busy onsite hygienist when he was tired of twiddling his thumbs as an onsite paramedic/nurse. Pete noticed that the hygienists had cool toys and got to get out of their office a lot more than he did at the time. Some time later, he fell back into occupational hygiene through promoting and training the Airmet range of products. Finally Pete saw the light and moved into the hygiene-consulting world. Since then, Pete has graduated from UOW with the MSc OHP and as he says, “I’m always amazed at where the hygiene work takes me, the people I meet and the many different jobs I get to go to..”.  Well that’s because it’s the #bestjobintheworld!  Here is 5 mins with Pete:

Best location I have worked: Mine sites are not generally regarded as glamorous, “must see destinations”, but I’ve found that the more remote the location the more amazing the experience. My current consulting role with GCG finds me in the Central Highlands of PNG – conducting a very large noise survey.  Definitely a career highlight.

The best thing about my job is: The variety… I can go from getting dirty with the underground miners looking at DPM exposures one day, to assisting clean office clients with lighting and indoor air quality issues (that are more HR issues). Recently I flew into a remote area via helicpter to conduct some work, I felt pretty special arriving in true movie cliché style – with the dust blowing everywhere and people ready to greet me hanging onto their (hard) hats.

If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to: Carrying multiple measuring devices and equipment while wearing all the right PPE to set the right example. You should see the volume of personal clothing I can get into my carry-on bag in order to not be overweight with the large equipment bags that I have just checked in.

People normally think my job involves: Just a minute… Let’s face it.  No-one outside of the occupational hygiene industry really understands what we do. I‘ve met safety professionals who have no idea what my job involves. The best thing that we can do as an industry group is to make people aware of what we really do. I was once told that hygienists don’t work, they just watch other people work. I think that we are in the business of watching others so that we ensure they not only go home safely, but they also go home as healthy (or better) as when they came to work.

The best thing I’ve been asked to do was: Apart from being asked to have a small part in the 2011 AIOH Annual Conference in Brisbane, I was asked to help out with hygiene work at a large shutdown at an oil refinery. Spending a few months climbing up high process towers and into small confined spaces to assess and monitor silica exposure risks was a lot of fun and helped me to complete my Master of Science – Occupational Hygiene Practice.

The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Anytime a client calls and says… “We have this strange smell in our office that comes and goes… Can you come and tell us what it is?”… I want to run away screaming, “It’s just not that simple!!”petea1 petea2

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: 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!