Industrial hygiene: from science to the art of winging it

Being an industrial hygienist in the time of the novel coronavirus is a bit surreal. Most of us IH’s have gotten used to the challenge of trying to help people understand just what it is we do, once in a while apologizing for what feels like a dated job title. I know that early in my career I occasionally muttered: nope, we don’t clean teeth or toilets.

It is probably true that all industrial hygienists have encountered occasions when we felt our knowledge wasn’t appreciated. That some around us didn’t take our warnings or recommendations as seriously as we felt they should. Yes! We are the ones committed to protecting the health and safety of people in the workplace and the community! We are the ones who have reminded so many about the limitations of respirators. Most of us have attempted to fit-test difficult people. For me, I harken back to the late 1980s when fit-testing in Alaska. A couple of big burly men argued with me – quite vehemently – that they “knew” they could pass a fit-test with their beard. After all…they had done it before! We all have presented training and shared messages like, no not every mask fits fits each face. We’ve repeated the “Hierarchy of Controls” so many times we’ve probably done it during our night-time dreams. But now, all these stories are so long ago: at least way back in 2019!

How did we not know that sometime soon – now – our knowledge and skill set would be of highest interest to everyone! And so many (who aren’t an IH) would share everything they knew on the topic too! So I ask you, my IH friends: remember those good old days? NIOSH certification was King! Duct tape? Never! Fit-testing with a selection of different sizes and styles of masks? Always! Training? Of course! Make your own? Don’t make me laugh! (or cry?)

Okay, I just had to get this off my chest. Now, moving back to 2020, we thank all of those emergency workers, first responders, and others doing essential work to keep people safe, fed, and cared for. It’s too late to say, we shoulda coulda. (But we should have and could have.) Instead, let’s enjoy viewing the 2020 Models of the COVID-19 Mask Parade.

First, we have the Duct Tape Model: best in circumstances when face piece is so old that the strap attachments are cracked and a glue gun doesn’t work. (NIOSH Certification # COVID-ONLY-NOT-IN-HEALTHCARE-OLD-TIMERS)

Next we have the Dog Coffee Please Model (NIOSH Certification # COVID-ONLY-GOOD-FOR DOG-PARK-AND-POOPING.)

Next, we are thrilled to offer the Budget Mummy Style Model for IH Retirees who forgot to keep important supplies post-retirement. (NIOSH Certification # COVID ONLY – GOLF COURSE SIMPLE STYLE.)

And finally, new for April is the Plus Creative Style Model for IH retiree who donated all working masks to healthcare. (NIOSH Certification # COVID ONLY GOLF COURSE DELUXE MODEL.)

We did have a late breaking addition to our spring collection. Interestingly, yet another retiree model. Please welcome our Gingham Mid-West Model with Scrunchy Attachments (NIOSH Certification # COVID NEIGHOBORHOOD STROLL MODEL ONLY, VOID IN SUPERMARKETS.)

The owners of the last two masks applied to be added as additional 2020 Models of the COVID-19 Mask Parade. We are sorry to disappoint but they both seem to meet 2019 NIOSH approval standards, and were thus, accordingly rejected. They were, however, a strong favorite in the People’s Choice category, fondly dubbed “Darth Vader.” Please do try again next year.

Oh wait, another late breaking entry. Please welcome Back to the Basics: Remembering the Plague (NIOSH Certification #COVID Old School, Void in Public or around small children.)

Thanks for joining me. And now, back to life in 2020.

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