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A day in the life of Tracey Boyle

05 August 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 ‘A day in the life of Tracey Boyle, president – elect of BOHS.

How early do you rise? 

If I’m going for a swim, 6am. Otherwise at 7am.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I’d like to say a double espresso brought to me in bed, but it is making sure that my youngest son leaves the house on time to catch his train, the dogs are fed and watered and I get my espresso before descending to my office in the cellar to start work.

What do you do?

My job is all about worker health protection. I might visit a workplace to carry out air sampling to determine exposure to airborne contaminants, measure noise levels, or measure vibration when workers are using power tools. I then write a report detailing the results and providing recommendations for control of the workplace hazards identified. I also write expert reports for the Court in cases of occupational disease, including, for example, asbestos-related diseases, occupational asthma and even one case of alleged arsenic poisoning.

Where do you work?

My work is a mixture of office-based report writing and visiting workplaces, mostly in the UK, sometimes in Europe and occasionally as far afield as Siberia and Algeria.

What does a typical day entail for you?

If I’m out on site, then I pack up my equipment in the car and set off to wherever I’m going. Last week I visited a bakery, which meant leaving the house at 4:45am which was hard. The day is spent explaining to managers and operatives what I’m doing and why, fitting the operatives with sampling equipment, observing working practices and asking lots of questions about their work. It’s a great job if you are curious – you get to see how all sorts of things are made; loo rolls, newspapers, washing machines, catalysts, cars.

If I’m in the office I’ll be interpreting survey results and report writing, or I might be researching and reading papers for a court report.

What is your favourite piece of work equipment?

My eyes. People generally expect occupational hygienists to turn up with sampling equipment and to take lots of measurements of various sorts, which we generally do. But most information comes from observing what’s going on in the workplace. Often the measurements just confirm my assessment, although not always – you don’t always get to see everything that happens in a workplace, so an unexpected high result may lead to more questions or investigations.

What would you be lost without in work?

My colleagues. As a partner in a very small consultancy, I often discuss my work with my business partner or other colleagues in occupational hygiene practice. They are a great source of knowledge and experience and always willing to share.

When did you last laugh in work? What made you laugh?

I get to laugh most days. When I’m out on site, there will be someone with a sharp wit and a string of one liners. If I’m in the office, there’s always something: an email from a colleague; a text; or something the postman said.

What is the best part of your day?

I love the feeling when I’ve finished a long report and pressed the send button. I am also very happy when I hear that as a result of a report I’ve written, company management have implemented improvements to the workplace. As a consultant, you don’t always hear from the companies for whom you’ve worked, so it’s always gratifying when they get back in touch and ask you to come back to reassess a workplace once improvements have been implemented.

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

If you are curious about the world, have a scientific background and like talking to, and more importantly, listening to people, being an occupational hygienist is a great job. You should be flexible and not wedded to routine. It is not a nine to five sort of job. You also need to be reasonably organised and self motivated. I have been doing this work for nearly 30 years and I’m not fed up with it yet.