Industrial Hygiene is a lot of things to me. It’s part profession, part personal interest. It’s a way contribute to the world and a way to learn from it. It’s a way to bring science and ethics into everyday life. Were workers protected from silica when they installed my kitchen countertop? Does my friend with the 1950’s house know to protect herself when she removes her popcorn ceiling? And, perhaps most fundamentally, how will the end of my life impact the longevity of others?
This was the question that arose when my friend and colleague Eva Glosson, who has always been charmingly fascinated by the macabre, proposed we present on exposures in the death care industry at AIHce Exp 2018. I was excited for the opportunity to learn about a somewhat obscure but incredibly important industry. In the months leading up to the presentation, we spent many hours researching industry hazards (crematory operators may be exposed to silica), delighting in strange facts (did you know that freezing a body in liquid nitrogen and then fragmenting it may be an interment method of the future?), and contemplating death culture (does our fear of death prevent us from addressing hazards in the death care industry?).
Once we got to AIHce, got on the podium, and started talking, I knew we had found our people. The other hygienists in the room were unafraid to engage with our difficult topic. They had stories to tell about the high formaldehyde exposures in gross anatomy labs and the (literally) toxic beliefs held by industry insiders – e.g. if the embalming fluid doesn’t smell, it’s not working. They wanted to know how Eva and I planned to be interred when we die. They wanted to make sure that we don’t bury our dead at the expense of our living.
I am so glad that Eva and I had the chance to present and connect with other hygienists, but I was definitely a bit nervous— as a younger hygienist, it can be intimidating to stand in front of a knowledgeable crowd. If other young professionals are thinking of presenting, I’d share with them the following:
- Don’t feel like you have to know everything. You won’t and no one does. Presenting at AIHce gives you a chance to learn from your audience as well as share with them.
- Seek support from your employer or school. Our colleagues and managers at Washington State’s Department of Labor & Industries were instrumental in our success at AIHce.
- Urban legend has it that Americans’ top fear is public speaking, followed by a fear of death. To confront these fears, I would advise submitting an abstract to AIHce (link= https://www.aievolution.com/aih1901/) and making a death plan (link = https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/business/retirementspecial/proper-death-planning-is-a-final-gift-to-loved-ones.html ).