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A day in the life of Mary Cameron

28 May 2015

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 Mary Cameron, occupational hygienist at Air Tech ECS.

How early do you rise? 

Normally this is quite early as my client could be any where in the country so travel time is variable. But I do get a client close by now and again so, when I have it, I grab the chance for a lie in before my site visit.


What gets you out of bed in the morning?  

Knowing that, after I have surveyed the site and recommended improvements, I have the potential to lessen a person’s risk of hazardous exposure. Helping to make the workplace safe and knowing that my contribution could prevent a worker from ill health is all the motivation I need.

What do you do?

I am an occupational hygienist for Air Tech E.C.S. This entails visiting a wide variety of industrial sites and conducting surveys to allow the client to meet specific regulations such as the control of noise at work regulations and the COSHH regulations.

For example, last week I conducted an occupational noise exposure assessment in a chocolate factory, this week I carried out local exhaust ventilation (LEV) testing and hazardous substances exposure monitoring for the workers in a fabrication shop and next week I am carrying out an indoor air quality survey in an office building. Each day is different to the last!

I am also an associate member of the BOHS and I have recently been given the role of Midlands regional organiser for the BOHS. As such, I am tasked with finding speakers and deciding topics for our regular regional meetings. For example, we have a meeting coming up in July entitled ‘LEV Testing - Beyond the Basics’. This covers a discussion on non-typical LEV systems we encounter in the real world and how to assess them as well as a discussion on the LEV industry and how it is moving forward. The aim of the meetings is to further the professional development and learning of occupational hygienists.

Where do you work?
Air Tech E.C.S is based in the West Midlands but my clients cover the whole span of the country. So I work everywhere!

What does a typical day entail for you?

A typical day for me (I use the term ‘typical’ loosely here!) is a drive to site to meet my client, walking the site to assess the hazards and where/how best to take my measurements, carrying out the assessment including monitoring the worker, asking questions and taking observations and then reviewing what I have found on the day with the site’s health and safety manager so they may make improvements based on my recommendations thus far. This is followed by a full report including the laboratory’s analytical results. I also take this opportunity to review the COSHH and other regulations with the client to better their understanding of what they are required to do to comply and to protect their workers.

What is your favourite piece of work equipment?
I would have to go with my dose badges which are mini personal noise exposure monitors. These clip onto the worker’s shoulder (close to their ear) to assess their noise exposure throughout the day. They are my favourite because they are easy to use, cause minimal interference for the worker and provide an excellent set of data to be later analysed. Although this is my favourite equipment I’d have to say my eyes and ears are my best pieces of equipment. Observation is key!

What would you be lost without in work?  
My watch, an on-site assessment can be quite a task to manage and may involve walking to and fro to different work stations across site, meeting worker’s on their varying break periods to remove/don sampling gear, checking a process which only runs at a specific time in the day, etc. Time management is an important part to my working day.

When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh?
The workers I find on site are often very happy for me to give them an interruption (to put on sampling gear or ask questions) of their daily routine. This gives them a short break from their normal responsibilities without getting in trouble with the boss! I enjoy interacting with others and they are usually very friendly so I get to have a laugh with them.

What is the best part of your day?
Siting down with the client at the end of my assessment on site and giving them my review of their workplace, what they need to have their workers to do differently (i.e. improve working practices if needed), recommendations to improve working conditions and what is most practicable for them to apply. I feel I have then made a positive change to the client’s workplace. I also love pressing the send button when I later send the report out. This gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.

What advice would you give a person thinking of becoming an occupational hygienist?  

Do it! This job allows you to help prevent ill health in the work place which should be enough reasoning to be an occupational hygienist as is but it also allows you to travel, interact with others, think on your feet, gain professional development and knowledge, see parts of industry few people get to see like how things are made as well as giving you a satisfying sense that you have made a positive contribution towards helping others to be safer and healthier.