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A day in the life of Julian Dowson

24 November 2016

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 Julian Dowson, director of Peritus Health Management.

How early do you rise?

It depends on the work for that day.  I have been known to set my alarm for 3am to get to a job, however I like to aim for about 6am.  Anything beyond that is a lie-in.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

For a normal day it will be George (my seven year old black Labrador) whining for his breakfast, but for those early starts I need to be on site to start along with the workers so that can I see the job through from start to finish.

What do you do?

My role within the company falls into three parts: I am an occupational hygienist; work place trainer; and occupational health surveillance technician. I get to see the work from different points of view and use these experiences to help influence employees to choose a healthy and safe behaviour - whether this is showing them the results of the real time dust levels to encourage damping down and use of RPE, or the results of their breathing tests to promote use of LEV and safe working practices.

Where do you work?

I work for an integrated occupational health and occupational hygiene service provider called Peritus Health Management.  We have a close knit team, which includes: occupational health specialist practitioners; screening nurses and technicians; occupational health mental health nurse specialist; occupational hygienist; and customer support team.

Even though I like to work from our base in Yorkshire (there’s nothing like your own bed), we cover the whole of the UK. My work takes me from Scotland all the way down to the south coast, with the occasional trip overseas.

What does a typical day entail for you?

There isn’t a typical day really, as every day is a different job in a different industry in a different location. My occupational hygienist work much depends on the shift pattern of our customers. It is not unknown for an air monitoring assessment to start at 4:30am, for example - to capture pastry preparation staff; or a 10pm night shift to ensure that night workers receive the same level of surveillance and monitoring as day shift staff.

I do long hours on site as I want to capture the start and end of the working days for the employees. If someone is reporting respiratory symptoms, we need to look carefully to discover the cause. Time-weighted averages over an eight hour period don’t always provide the information we need.

Working alongside occupational health specialist practitioners and consultant occupational chest physicians has given me significant insight into the adverse effects of work exposure, ie in situations where exposures have been incorrectly managed. This has taught me to listen carefully to workers and to look for peaks in exposure, as short term exposures to high levels of respiratory sensitisers may not be picked up in the TWA 8.

I like the fact that each day is not the same, and every job brings the opportunity to help people, enrich my experience and knowledge and give me the chance to read the latest research papers. Every day’s a school day – I love feeding my inner geek.

What is your favourite piece of work equipment?

I love any piece of kit that helps to drive the message home, whether it’s a spirometry, smoke machine or air sampling equipment. I love the education side of the job: if you really pushed me I would say my real-time dust monitor, as there is nothing better than showing a person on site the levels of contaminates within the air they are exposing themselves to there and then – it really makes it personal to them.

What would you be lost without in work?

This is really hard, but as my wife will be reading this… Amanda, my wife, the other director in the company.

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

All the time. So many stories from my time on site and perhaps not appropriate to be published, best told in a pub over a pint.

What is the best part of your day?

Even though I love my job, the best part of my day is being at home in the evening. Our philosophy is that we believe everyone should leave work in better health and a better state of wellbeing than they started that day – well you’ve got to practice what you preach!

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

Dust off your old chemistry books (or buy the latest editions); assign time each week to read; sign up to the HSE updates; get a good mentor; surround yourself with specialists in allied professions; listen carefully to the workers; develop a thick skin; enhance your people management skills and above all learn to laugh and smile your way through the day.