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A day in the life of Amanda Parker

16 November 2017

Each issue HSM puts the spotlight on worker health protection by speaking to a member of BOHS about the challenges and rewards of working in the field of worker health protection. In this issue we talk to Amanda Parker.

What is your job, and where do you work?

My job is worker health protection at the Ineos site in Grangemouth. I work for all the businesses on site, including: the refinery (Petroineos) and the petrochemicals site (Ineos O&P; Ineos Infrastructure; and Ineos Enterprises).

What motivates you to get out of bed on a work day?

A number of things really. Firstly, I work with some great people who are really committed to doing a good job. Then there is the desire to make a difference. The health impact of work has long played second fiddle to safety, despite being overwhelmingly more significant in terms of numbers (thousands of deaths in the UK due to workplace health impacts, compared to just over 100 fatal workplace accidents). As you can imagine, a petrochemical site has many health hazards, so there is lots of potential to make a difference. I’ve been here a few years now so I can see real changes for the better in terms of health hazard control.

What does a typical day entail for you?

One of the great things about my work is there is no typical day. I work in an office; on site; off site visiting contractors; and occasionally I’m allowed out to give talks to other organisations on behalf of BOHS. Sometimes I need to brief (or persuade) senior management, but most times I’m talking with engineers, supervisors or workers at the job site. On site I might be chatting the job through with supervisors or workers, or I could be using various types of monitoring equipment to measure the potential health impact e.g. measuring noise, or monitoring personal exposure to hydrocarbons.

What is your favourite, or most important, piece of work equipment?

Probably the most important tool is the least impressive. I use diffusive monitoring a lot to determine personal exposures to a variety of hydrocarbons, with very significant potential health effects. Trouble is, it just looks like a little metal tube… Much more impressive is the Tiger – it is big, orange and makes lots of noise. Real Ghostbusters-type kit. Also, as it is direct reading I can show the workers exactly what is being displayed on the screen, rather than waiting for analysis to come back from the lab days later.

What item would you be lost without at work?

My filing system. There really is nothing new under the sun, and the same questions and issues keep popping back up in different guises. I hate re-inventing the wheel, so it’s always useful to check back what was said and done before – also helpful not to contradict myself! A related aspect is knowing just who to speak to about a specific issue – there is no substitute for having an extensive network of knowledgeable people – especially if they owe you a favour!

What route did you take to working in the field of worker health protection?

I was an eco-warrior teenager (ban the bomb, save the whale…) so I did an Honours degree in Environmental Science at Bradford University. The degree had a small element of occupational yygiene in it, but what really swung it was the compulsory year out in industry: I ended up doing my student placement with the BP Global Health Team. There could not have been a better hands-on introduction to my eventual discipline. No name dropping allowed but I worked with at least two BOHS past presidents.

What advice would you give a person thinking of working in the area of worker health protection?

Go for it! It’s a very rewarding job, but it has a strong technical content. You need to make sure you have all the right qualifications. Just visit the BOHS qualifications page on their website.

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

One of my colleagues makes it her business to personally try on every new chemical suit that we have in to trial. As she is often half the size of the suit, the results are usually hilarious – unfortunately I’m not allowed to provide the photos. Of course, there is lots of banter at work, but it is often an 'in joke'. If I’m getting a little irate on the phone a team mate will sometimes pass me a little note with P235 written on it – you’ll just have to look that one up…

What is the best part of working in the field of worker health protection?

I love running training courses. Occasionally when I talk about the potential impact on health, I can see the penny drop with people that it’s their health, their friend’s health and that they can do something about it. Seeing people leave the room armed with that knowledge and the determination to do something with it, gives me hope that we can see the figures on work related ill health start to come down in the same way that we have seen reductions in the numbers of accidents.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to worker health protection currently?

As industry changes it brings a reduction in more traditional health risks, but introduces new ones. I think, however, the fundamental challenges remain the same: how do we communicate the often long term, insidious effects on health; how do we convince industry to spend money now to prevent health effects that may occur may years into the future?

There is also a huge burden on health in the workplace in the developing world, where exposures to materials such as silica and asbestos are at horrific levels. There is a challenge there for all in the western world who benefit from cheap goods -  to help redress the balance. A great organisation working in this area is Workplace Health Without Borders: http://www.whwb.org/