A day in the life of Sarah Leeson

04 August 2014

Each issue, HSM speaks to a member of the BOHS about the challenges and rewards of working as an Occupational Hygienist. This issue we talk to Sarah Leeson, Regional Occupational Hygiene Co-ordinator at ExxonMobil.

1. How early do you rise?  
Early. My commute to the office involves driving round the M25 so I am normally up around 5.30-5.45.  This can seem like a lie-in though compared to days when I am heading off to the airport, in which case I normally have a taxi booked to leave home at 5am.  
2. What gets you out of bed in the morning?   
The alarm clock on my iPhone and listening to Vanessa Feltz on Radio 2. 

3. Breakfast in bed, on the hoof or at your desk?
I did get into the bad habit of skipping breakfast and eating once I got to the office.  However, after reading how it is not wise to make a journey on an empty stomach as your energy levels will be low and therefore concentration levels may be impaired, I have now reverted to making sure I have something to eat before leaving home.  For the sake of an extra 5 minutes it is definitely worth it.  

4. What do you do? 
I work as a Regional Occupational Hygienist for a global petrochemical company. I co-ordinate the Occupational Hygiene support provided by colleagues in Europe and Africa to the non-manufacturing sites which the company operates, as well as providing hands-on support to sites in the UK.  

5. Where do you work? 
I work at the companies head office in Surrey, but that isn’t generally where I spend all my time.  I can be visiting one of our sites in the UK or around Europe and I have several trips to the US planned for this year. 

6. What does a typical day entail for you? 
As with most people, I don’t have a "typical day". One thing which always happens is checking and responding to emails. During the course of a day I can be providing guidance to colleagues on the implementation of global Occupational Hygiene practices, or be providing Occupational Hygiene advice direct to personnel at the operating sites. Currently I am working on a project to implement a new database which will be used globally by all the Occupational Hygienists, so I am doing a lot of initial system configuration work and testing.  On days when I get out of the office I may be carrying out surveys at a fuels terminal or airport to measure exposures to noise or chemicals and ensuring that the practices we have in place for keeping our workforce healthy are being properly applied.  Last year I had the opportunity to carry out training in Lagos and to make my first offshore work visits in Norway – after working in Occupational Hygiene for over 20 years there are still plenty of opportunities for new experiences.   

I am also on the Faculty Board for the BOHS and we are currently updating a flowchart to summarise the routes by which someone can become on Occupational Hygienist. By the time you are reading this, the flowchart and accompanying guidance should have been finalised and available on the BOHS website.   

7. Is there routine in your day?
I’m not one for routines. I thrive on variety, and I get a lot of that with my job. Saying that, I do endeavour to get outside for a run or do an exercise class at least every other day.   

8. Do you work on your own or with other people?
I mainly work with other people, albeit in a virtual capacity most of the time.  I can spend a good deal of my time on teleconferences with colleagues in other counties.  You can’t work in isolation as an Occupational Hygienist as the job is all about sharing information and practices with others.   

9. What is your favourite piece of work equipment? 
If referring to Occupational Hygiene equipment, I would say a noise dosimeter.  The advances in dosimeters over the past few years have been incredible, and the instruments are now so compact and light-weight. This makes them a lot more acceptable to the person who needs to wear them, and makes it a lot easier (and lighter) carrying equipment to a survey site. 

10. What would you be lost without in work?  
My i-Phone.  It is such a convenient way of keeping track of emails and meetings when I am travelling. 

11. When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh? 
A couple of weeks ago when I was undergoing my 2-yearly RPE fit testing.  The trainer was recounting some of the comments he receives from the workforce when they are fit tested.  Luckily laughing did not cause me to fail the test!

12. What is the best part of your day? 
Getting home.  

13. What advice would you give someone thinking of becoming an occupational hygienist?  
Don’t just think about it … get out there and see how you can become an Occupational Hygienist. For starters, take a look at the information available on the BOHS website.  
BOHS, is The Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection which has a simple aim to provide a healthy working environment for everyone. With members from across industry, health, education, government and research, BOHS brings together those involved in the science and practical application of occupational hygiene, it champions and facilitates the development of professional competency, and promotes the science and practice of occupational hygiene worldwide.