Button-Down Industrial Hygiene: The Management Challenge

Article excerpt

After more than 50 years of campaigning, the industrial hygiene profession is still fighting in many businesses for recognition and acceptance. The leaders in this campaign, industrial hygiene managers, have established a beachhead, but it's far from totally secure.

"Industrial hygiene, safety, and pollution control all have to continue to sell their value," notes John Pendergrass, an industrial hygienist and former OSHA administrator.

"A lawyer is recognized as an expert in law, but still must sell his need to his employer," Pendergrass says. "The industrial hygienist," he says, on the other hand, "has a little more difficult task; he's not as well-established."

Industrial hygiene and safety professionals, like professionals in other business functions, are always competing within companies for resources, points out Lawrence R. Birkner, CIH, CSP, corporate manager of safety and industrial hygiene for ARCO, the oil company headquartered in Los Angeles. "If they know how to better pose their projects, programs, and budgets, they can compete better and can get more resources."

Making sure the "resources are there and put in the right place," notes John L. Henshaw, CIH, industrial hygiene director of St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., is a vital responsibility of the industrial hygiene manager. "The manager may not be getting his or her hands dirty, or really doing the 'good' work, as far as the action on the floor or plant level, but what he's doing is just as important, or more so."

Henshaw, who assumes the presidency of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) this month, notes that it's an industrial hygiene manager's job to keep a company's "edge sharp," as far as its activity in occupational health.

"Corporations have millions of things they're worried about," Henshaw points out. "So, if no one's there talking about [industrial hygiene], it tends to be neglected. You need somebody at a high level to maintain awareness. That's what managers need to do, and the responsible companies will respond to that."

Industrial hygiene managers also have to remind upper management that part of producing a high-quality product and doing it effectively is protecting the health of employees, says Frederick M. Toca, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, director of industrial hygiene and compliance for USS, the steel division of USX Corp., Pittsburgh.

"In our profession, I don't think we can be laid back," Toca asserts.

Management Skills

The skills required to manage industrial hygiene are basically no different than those required to manage other business functions, maintains Birkner. "People who try to make the distinction are really doing safety and industrial hygiene people a disservice," he says. "The objective is to make safety and industrial hygiene no different than any other business activity that is required for the effective operation of a plant, or any other kind of business."

Taking for granted that the technical knowledge of industrial hygiene is in place, good industrial hygiene managers also require:

* The ability to work with people-people reporting to you and those you report to, and those you are associated with on a regular basis," Pendergrass notes.

* The ability to communicate well, both in writing as well as verbally-"to the top executives, to your staff, as well as to other people," says Toca.

* The ability to identify a problem-"not only from the industrial hygiene standpoint but from production, quality, cost - all the other aspects of good management-and be able to work out solutions," Pendergrass adds.

* A basic and fundamental understanding of how organizations work. For example, what are the goals of the organization you work for, and how does your function fit into the organization's structure?

Birkner emphasizes that a good industrial hygiene manager must understand the company's business and the needs of the people who are actually producing the product. …