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#11: Crab asthma.

October 3, 2018 | 1 hour 40 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James catches up with Mark, who’s got 36 years of professional industrial hygiene experience, with never a dull moment.

While Mark was orienting his undergraduate studies for a career in environmental science, a chance encounter with a federal OSHA inspector opened his eyes to possibilities involving occupational safety and health.

You’ll learn how Mark’s blue-collar upbringing influenced his perspectives on occupational safety, and how a 7-year adventure in Alaska working as one of about 15 industrial hygienists in the entire state, solidified his professional interest (along with some measure of local celebrity) by offering the truly unique experience of working with under-served Native American communities.

Mark’s story will take you all over the country—and back—and from the public sector to private consulting. You’ll visit the frontlines of asbestos abatement, HAZWOPER training, OSHA public hearings on workplace violence, and meetings with the National Academy of Science. Listeners are treated to an unrivaled perspective on occupational illnesses built by decades of firsthand engagement, often involving exploration of worker exposure histories and workers’ compensation cases.

There’s a good lesson here for all young environmental safety and health professionals about how accepting the challenge of public speaking can unlock career opportunities. Also, learn why aspiring industrial hygienists must make the time to visit occupational medicine clinics.

Fun Fact: Mark is a real occupational safety historian – visit his YouTube channel for more.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number 11. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer, and today I'm joined by Mark, who is a Consulting Industrial Hygienist, who recently left private sector Employment and is working out of Columbia, Maryland.

Jill:

Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark:

Thank you Jill. Glad to be here.

Jill:

So Mark, leaving private sector for consulting, that's kind of a big deal. How many years had you been in private sector?

Mark:

I started working in 1981, so just finished 36 years.

Jill:

Wow.

Mark:

And it is pretty exciting to sort of work on my own, and hoping for the best.

Jill:

So 36 years in the role of Industrial Hygiene.

Mark:

Right, right. And in that, like many of us, I've often been a generalist. So I've done safety work and environmental work, part of all that. But I sort of like to keep my grounding as an Industrial Hygieist.

Jill:

Right. So Mark, the center piece of this podcast is asking how people accidentally came into the health and safety practice, and going back a number of years for you, what did that look like back then? OSHA had been around for a little ... you said 1986?-

Mark:

1981.

Jill:

Coming up ... oh, 1981? So just a little over a decade.

Mark:

Yeah, and I was an undergrad in the mid to late 70s. And in graduate school a little bit. I grew up in a blue collar family in Akron, Ohio. Most of my relatives worked in the rubber shops and though I didn't do that sort of work, but had a sense of what that kind of work was like. But I was at the University of Akron, State University. First of my family to go to college, and this was a number of years after Earth Day. I was really planning to have an environmental career in being an Environmental Scientist and work on air and water pollution and those sorts of issues.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

Near the end of my undergraduate time I actually ran into a guy who worked for federal OSHA. He was an inspector for federal OSHA. He described his work as environmental work inside factories, and that just opened up this whole world that I really hadn't known about in terms of occupational safety and health, as a possibility to me. It sort of led me in that direction. It was a perfect thing for him to say because it led me to this marvelous career in the last 30+ years.

Jill:

Wow, how interesting because before in your head, you were just thinking about, like you said, you were thinking about celebrating Earth Day. So you were really thinking about the things that were more impacting the environment and our outside world, not necessarily what was happening to people inside the places where they worked.

Mark:

Right, right. And as I said, my family were blue collar workers. My father and mother worked in the rubber shops. My dad ended up being a mechanic. My uncles all worked in the rubber shop. And I had a little bit of awareness of some of the health issues and safety issues, but the idea that this could be something I would focus my scientific interest on and I could use as work, was something that never crossed my mind. It's interesting when you look back on it, historically there was actually occupational safety health was a part of Earth Day. And a part of a lot of the environmental discussions back in the late 60s and up until the time OSHA was passed. So folks back then, a lot of those folks who did environmental work saw occupational health as a part of their work.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, very interesting. So having had the blue collar background that you did with your family, as did I, I often ... well, I think it's probably the first thing I often think about is where those roots are whenever I'm applying my safety background. Is thinking about how would've this impact did my family, or the factory where my dad worked. Is that a lens that you've looked through throughout your career?

Mark:

It has been, and I think especially several of my uncles who worked in the rubber shops, and some of who ended up work related asthma, and some with asbestoses over the years back from. And they started work back in the 40s or 50s. So working to improve conditions in work places like that really was, just really exciting. It really felt good to do this sort of work. When I go out to work sites often it would, especially early on when I was ... when your younger and you go out to industrial work sites with much older workers, you can be intimidated because they've been around a long time and your brand new.

Jill:

Right.

Mark:

But I would look at a lot of these guys and think, "Oh yeah, this could be my father. These could be my uncles." And I felt comfortable talking to them, so it made it easier to do this work.

Jill:

Yeah.

Mark:

It also gave me some pushback, because I remember my uncles would, and my father would sometimes come home and talk about the work study people who were in there and they were-

Jill:

Causing trouble.

Mark:

And they were reviled by, talk to the workers that relatives that I knew. So I remember one of my earliest sampling of ... I was in a sampling in a warehouse for carbon monoxide with drago tubes, and you're pulling your drago tubes and you're waiting. And I realized at one point, none of these guys in the warehouse knew why I was there. No one had told them why I was there. I had this shutter that went up my spine, "Oh my God, they probably think I'm time study. They probably hate me." So I was like I need to make sure people know why I'm there when I'm doing my work. So that's something I've always tried to do is make sure either the employer or whoever brought me in, where that I'm able to tell people why I'm doing the work. You know, you both get feedback from people and insight that you've might not have gotten, otherwise there also gives them a positive sense of why I'm there, as opposed to time studying.

Jill:

That's so true. That often was part of my work when I was an investigator with OSHA. You go into a factory and the expectation of the investigator, the government rather, was that you're wearing a hard hat with the government logo on it.

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

And immediately that makes people fearful, depending on where they're working, and what they're doing. So when I got into facilities, most of the time I would ask if there was company personal protective equipment that I could wear so that I wasn't standing out.

Mark:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

And a lot of these kinds of factories have color coding, like a certain color means a certain rank, if you will.

Mark:

Right.

Jill:

In a facility, so I'm like, "Don't give me whatever is the top one." Because I don't want to scare people, and I don't want this government logo on me because that also scares people. Then always really careful when I interviewed employees to explain what my purpose was, and that my purpose was to ensure their health and safety, and it wasn't to find fault with what they were doing when I was asking them questions like, "Tell me how this machine works, you know."

Mark:

Right, right. And that was part of what I found too was, especially was as I was younger, it was easier to be able to ask, "Explain this process to me." Or I think this is what I'm seeing is that how this really happens. And lot of, mostly, workers are really happy to tell you about their work, and how things work, and what they think could be done to make it better, if they feel like that you're at least a trusted source or they don't think you're going to do harm.

Jill:

Right, exactly. So you got your start. You realize you could do your work in industry. What was that first job? What did you pursue?

Mark:

What was interesting, the first job I had been going to school in Akron, Ohio, and my wife and I had moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So I was looking for ... looking after graduate school. So I was looking for work there. I actually applied for and got a job as in the health and safety department of an industrial union, a labor union.

Jill:

Okay.

Mark:

So again, my blue collar family had all been union members, and I knew what unions were in general, but I hadn't worked as a union member. But the idea that I could a union doing health and safety, and using science just was even better because it was like, "Wow, I can be working to help my, again, people like my relatives, and my father and my mother doing this work." And I hadn't realized unions actually hired staff. So it was really fun to do this. And actually part, the position was actually funded by a federal OSHA grant under an old program that they called the New Directions Program, to encourage organizations to build capacity. It also gave me a link then into some OSHA, kind of directly in to OSHA issues. It was a marvelous first job. The organization was the Allied Industrial Workers Union, that was based out of Milwaukee. They were a small industrial union that represented workers, mostly in the Midwest. And at small plants, auto parts, but a whole range of other kind of workplaces, from grain elevators to metal plating operations. So it gave me this real interesting chance to see a lot of fair medium to small facilities of a lot of different types.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

So it wasn't like I only looked at in foundries so I'm thinking of some of the places we went to, foundries. And it gave me a chance to see a whole lot of types of work sites that were small and medium, instead of ... had I gotten a job at a large corporate employer, that had one major focus like the auto industry. Then you see a much narrower range of work sites.

Jill:

Right. Yeah, it's absolutely and advantage to be able to see so many places of employment where people are doing their work. When you were doing that work, was it primarily industrial hygiene, or was safety starting to kind of sneak into that as well?

Mark:

I ended up being a generalist. There were actually two of us in the health and safety program. The union had about 120,000 members, and represented workers. There are probably about two or three hundred work sites. So we would do sort of basic health and safety work. Industrial hygiene work occasionally. Some sampling. The warehouse sampling that I've mentioned, I had actually done through the union. We offered as a union that we would do this as a service for free for an employer where we had concerns about carbon monoxide, and the employer was willing to let us come in and do that testing. And it didn't cost them anything, they didn't have to hire an outside consultant. We had good relationships with that employer so that they would be willing to work with us based on the results.

Mark:

So there was that. There would be safety issues that would come in, that I felt completely unexperienced to work on. But the director of our program, who was the staff person, was a wonderful man name Milan Racic and he had been a long time OSHA industrial hygienist. Had been the first industrial hygienist in Wisconsin, and had done health and safety work since the mid 60s. So he had this almost 20 years of experience by the time I came to work for him. He became this really incredible mentor because he had this huge broad experience having worked with OSHA. And as you know, because your work with OSHA, how broad that experience gets to be.

Jill:

Absolutely, absolutely is. I guess actually I wanted to mention. You brought up a point, that I'm wondering if some of our listeners might not know. You had mentioned that you're able to do industrial hygiene monitoring for these places of employment where there was union representation and you're able to do it free for the employer.

Mark:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

So as many of us are going about doing our work and we're thinking, "How do I have access to resources? And where can I go?" Because all of us, many of us safety and health professionals, don't have a budget. So you're trying to figure out creative ways to get what you need. I think that's a really good tip to remind people where they have union representation that they can ask their union if they have someone like you who would be able to help them.

Mark:

Yeah, and not as many workplaces are unionized as they were when I started back in 1981, but most major unions have and safety staff at their internationals. Some larger local unions will even health and safety staff that maybe full or part-time and available to help. Lots of unions have trained members who are trained in safety and health. And you maybe surprised how much training some of the folks, you get the United Auto Workers, and the United Steel Workers Union. And other unions actually have these extensive internal training programs to train health and safety ... train members who are in health and safety committees, and members to be advocate for health and safety and help resolve issues. It's an incredibly powerful way to take care of safety issues where you have good relationships between the employer and the union and the members. You can really come up with some really wonderful solutions to problems, sort of internally without having to bring in either outside consultants, but without OSHA being part of that.

Jill:

Right, right. Smart, smart. I know Mark that your career took you on a journey all the way to Alaska. I'm interested to have you tell that story. Was that after this job that you were just talking about?

Mark:

Yeah, I worked for a couple of years for Allied Industrial Workers union, and that was funded primarily by this OSHA new directions grant. And then that grant funding ended, it was meant to help develop capacity the funding ended. Unfortunately at the time the funding ended, it was big recession going on in the Midwest and the union I was working for had lost almost half it's membership. I was laid off because it just wasn't funding them. So they were trying to hold it together. I ended up applying for a job in Anchorage, Alaska, working for a community non-profit called the Alaska Health Project. It was an organization that did occupational and environmental health work for the state of Alaska as a community resource non-profit. There are organizations like that around the country. There are now about 20 of them and they're generally called committees on occupational safety and health, but they have various names. They're non-profit community based organizations often that work with organized labor, but can work with employers and others to advance occupational environmental health work.

Mark:

So I came to Alaska in the summer of 1984, and came to work with this group thinking that ... and they were primarily grant funded, so the grant I was going to work under had a one year time frame to it. Possibility of an extension on it. But I said I always wanted to visit Alaska, and I thought well moving to Alaska for a year and working would be really cool.

Jill:

Was your wife thinking the same thing?

Mark:

She was. She was actually a biologist naturalist, so we both had wanted to visit Alaska. So we drove up right around solstice. The sun was never setting as we drove. We drove all the way across the country to Seattle and up to Vancouver, and then took this ferry system up. Then got off in Haines, Alaska. You get up to Haines and you think you're at the end of the world if you're not from there. Then it's 800 miles down the Outcan Highway to get there.

Jill:

Oh my gosh.

Mark:

I remember driving into Anchorage at sort of near solstice in the middle of the summer and the sun not setting as ... it's midnight and we're driving into Anchorage, and that was the beginning of the most amazing journey and both personally but work wise it was really just quite remarkable. It was probably the best thing I did as a young hygienist was to take that job and be willing to move to Alaska and see what happen.

Jill:

Yeah, so what did happen? Was it a game changer for you and your career?

Mark:

It really was. First of all, I generally liked the industrial hygiene and occupational health and safety work, but I still had this tug that I really thought about environmental work and going back to that. And going back to finishing graduate school, and going back to work in environmental work. But the years of working in Alaska, I was up there for almost seven years, that really solidified that occupational health work was what I wanted to stay in and do. Occasionally I get involved in environmental work, which is always fun, but primarily I might know that, that was the change to sort of stay in this profession.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So how long did the two of you stay in Alaska?

Mark:

We were in Alaska until the early 19 to 1991, then I ended up moving to Seattle to work with the University of Washington at their school public health occupational medicine clinic. It was a big reason to leave, but I was, I actually-

Jill:

What a big shift.

Mark:

Yeah, it was really wonderful. That was another wonderful position. I've been really fortunate in my career to keep sort of finding a succession of really wonderful jobs, and wonderful people to work with. I had actually just bought a house, and I had finally bought a house in Anchorage about 1990. It was shortly after buying the house that, that opportunity in Seattle opened up and then we decided to move there. That was also another sort of wonderful choice. But Alaska was ... for a young hygienist with a few years of experience, I moved there and one of the things I learned early on was there were like 10 or 15 hygienists in the entire state.

Jill:

Oh wow.

Mark:

Now, it's a huge territory-

Jill:

Right.

Mark:

It was only half a million people, but to be working for this sort of non-profit that provided community help, I remember an experience of being in Fairbanks for the first time, and I had some free time and I looked in the yellow pages and went to the local, the one safety supply store that existed in Fairbanks in 1984. I went in and I was looking around and I introduced myself to the staff behind the counter. When he found out I was an Industrial Hygienist he liked, jumped over the counter and came up to shake my hand. He wanted my card. He wanted to know how he could call me. Because he said, "There's so few of you of here. This is great to know somebody." So that was a lot of the reaction was that. People were, and so-

Jill:

The famous IH.

Mark:

Yeah, I had never had that reaction before. It was also being fairly only having three years of experience. Now to have people really be...I remember I got a call from a worker in a remote village far, at a school in the far northern part of the state on the Arctic Ocean. And he was asking me a question about calibrating a pump because he was going to do some ... he needed to do air sampling for asbestos.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

This was early on in the asbestos issues. I remember my first thought was well, "I can't tell you how to calibrate the pump by long distance." And he said, "I trained, and I'm not sure if I'm doing it right." He says, "You can either help me or I'll just do whatever I think right, so I rather have your help." I was like, "Okay." I did my best to help him.

Jill:

Talk him through.

Mark:

Yeah, and so it was like welcome to Alaska.

Jill:

Oh, how fascinating. I bet you put a lot of miles on whatever vehicle you had.

Mark:

I did, and actually a lot of the miles ended up being ... when I first moved there, one of the things that director of the organization said, "If we want to do more work in rural Alaska off the road system." And he said we're ... and the group had only been around for three years at that point, so they were fairly new. And then I remember my director Larry Weiss, he said, "We also want to more work with the native community." Because the native community is an under served group here. They have occupational vermin or health concerns. We should do what we can to help. So my arrival kind of coincided with a lot of focus on asbestos issues. What had happen is ... and there's a complex history of essentially the native populations in Alaska got ownership of one third of the state. And a lot of prior land that used to be federal land was turned over and was being turned over to the natives as their private property and to run their corporations to earn money and jobs for native people.

Mark:

So the issue, a lot of the buildings that had gotten turned over that were schools, or other buildings that have been turned over in the past, were full of asbestos. The native populations were now asking questions and having to deal with asbestos rules that were right or was coming up shortly, after that was asbestos in schools. So I remember early on right after a AHERA passed in 1986, going up to a mountain village and training all their school maintenance workers. There was about 50 of those school maintenance workers, many of whom were bilingual, but some who only spoke the native language, Yupik.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

I remember doing a class where every so often they'd ask me stop and there were a couple old timers, old maintenance workers, and then there would be people would translate in Yupik what I had just said.

Jill:

Man, wow.

Mark:

And it was fascinating. But part of the training was hands on. If I had any doubts that people were understanding what I was talking about when we did the hands on parts on glove bagging and controls and other things. They were great. They got the idea and they were doing a good job.

Jill:

They demonstrating, yeah.

Mark:

Demonstrated that they really knew that they could do the work.

Jill:

So you're doing training. Had you been much of a public speaker before? Was some of this work some of your first in front of an audience? How did that go for you?

Mark:

When I was in high school I was one of those really shy kind of nerdy scientist science students, so I hardly talked at all. One of the things I knew when I got to college was that there are two things I needed that I realized I needed to change. One was my fear of public speaking. I needed to not be terrified, because knew that would limit my future. The other one, I had this terrible fear of heights. The two things I did was I took up rock climbing.

Jill:

Oh my gosh.

Mark:

And I did that. That got over the fear of heights. The thing I did is I joined organizations, and I put myself in positions where I had to do public speaking.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

Usually around environmental issues that I had an interest in. And I would be ... and then I got involve in as I got into school longer, I got involved in some opportunity to do teaching. So I had to get up in front of a class. I was terrified. I would turn bright red, and I'd stutter, and I'd make all the mistakes you could make. But after like a hundred times it got easier.

Jill:

So it takes a hundred times.

Mark:

So when I had my first hygiene job in Milwaukee, and then the job in Anchorage, it was getting easier to do the public speaking because I've been gaining this experience. It's still something that would give me butterflies ahead of time. I would still turn red, I just ... and people are usually pretty kind about it. One of the things I recall was someone early on when I was trying to do public speaking said most people are way more terrified that they're thinking, "Oh my God, I don't want to be up there. I'm glad he's up there." So he said people are usually sympathetic because they don't want to be there, they're glad you're up there. That made it easier to think about doing this work.

Jill:

Yeah, that is true. That's a good tip. I challenge myself a number of years ago to never turn own any request for speaking.

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

Because I really wanted to kind of hone that skill and get better at it. It's craft that I'm working on, and I love doing it and I don't necessarily have ... I never had that really big fear, but I still get butterflies. I still get nervous. I still get jittery, and if I don't, those are the times that I usually don't do well. But yeah, there's specifics public speaking that I don't like doing, and it's reading. Anything that's not my own words out loud. When I made this promise to myself about, "I won't down any public speaking." That included if I got asked to read something in church.

Mark:

Yeah, yeah.

Jill:

I'm like okay, it's a public speaking thing. It's a microphone. It's a podium. I have to say yes, and so I say, "Yes." And I just don't like it. It still makes me more nervous that anything else because I'm worried I'm going to skip a line, or I'm going to miss something, I'm going to see something out of the corner of my eye, and I'm going to get distracted. I'm going to super embarrass myself, and I wouldn't even have known I did it.

Mark:

Right.

Jill:

So those are the times that made me most nervous.

Mark:

Right, and after a while you'll embarrass yourself enough times that you get better, and you get over that. Buts it's interesting, I look back and that was probably one of the really key things that was not part of my thinking. Learning my science and developing my skills as an environmental scientist was, what I thought was the most important, but probably one of the more important things was doing public speaking.

Jill:

Yeah.

Mark:

Because if you can't do that well, or if you don't work on that, and you're not willing to do it, it really does limit what you do. I would've never taken that first job with the Allied industrial Workers union because part of that job was going to be teaching of our union members, and speaking out in public forums like OSHA hearings and things like that.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

If I would've just said no, I would've never had an opportunity to do now what's really amazing work. In high school I wanted to work. I knew I wanted to do environmental work, but I decided I should work in a laboratory where I never had to talk to people. And you know, thank goodness she don't-

Jill:

That would've been a limiter. Yeah.

Mark:

Thank goodness you don't get what you wish for sometimes, right?

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

I've had this most amazing 30+ years of doing really wonderful work that I feel good about. It's a satisfaction to the work we do right. Most days, of the last 30+ years, I wake up thinking, "I get to go to work today."

Jill:

Yeah, and you always get something new.

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

And you're done learning.

Mark:

Yeah, so-

Jill:

I had ... mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Someone asked me yesterday with help with nanotechnology and safety. This is a land that I do not know, but I'm absolutely committed to finding out. It was one of the more fun parts of my work week, because it was something different, and I get to dig into some research and find out how can I help. How can I help this individual source some information? So there's never a dull moment in our career.

Mark:

That's something that I've found about the health and safety work. It's been both challenging, but it's also so variable. I started out at doing some health and safety in industrial plants. Pretty straight forward, not necessary straight forward, but pretty common type of work.

Jill:

Yeah.

Mark:

The work I just left with service employees with in the National Union, the major focus on my work the last four or five years, I've been workplace violence prevention, and dealing with workplace violence. I would have never guess-

Jill:

Never.

Mark:

In 1981, that I was going to deal with workplace violence. But it's a major issue in healthcare. We had lots of healthcare members, especially nurses, and this was a major issue that we worked on. So you have to learn it. You have to be adaptable, and you have to do your best.

Jill:

Yeah, yeah. I know a little bit about that work that you did with workplace violence. And you had mentioned a minute ago about testifying at OSHA hearings as well as another place that you were able to hone and test your public speaking skills. That leads me to wonder what was it like with the OSHA hearings? How did that happen for you? And have you been called upon numbers of times in your career to do that? And what were the outcomes to do that with those?

Mark:

Yeah, I had actually lots of opportunities to sort of speak in these, in policy meetings. Whether it's often of OSHA public hearings, but also more informal meetings with NIOSH and The Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Science and others. It's the more formal like ones, like the federal and state OSHA regulatory hearings, they're more formalized and there's less sort of interaction. So those are useful because the outcomes are so powerful on national OSHA regulation or a state based regulation can have an impact on a lot of work places. I enjoy more of the sort of, more informal, and the sort of interaction that happens with some of the other meetings set with NIOSH, or with the National Academy of Science, where there's more discussion interaction as your sort of thinking about policy and thinking about approaches that will potentially might become OSHA regulations down the road but at least become policy.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

So I had a wonderful chance. It was in the ... toward the end of may this last year. The National Academy of Science has a sub committee that's looking at the use of elastomeric respirators as an alternative respiratory protection for healthcare, which is not currently used by very many places, and they're looking at whether this would help us provide a better respirator for healthcare and deal with potential shortages of the 95 respirators. I was able to go, and I spoke to the committee and we had some good interaction talking about that. That really feels good to do that sort of work.

Jill:

Right, right. You've placed your hand on so many different things across the country, marking the years that you've done this work. What are some of your high points as in impacts that you made you're proud of or that you were part of? Your hand was at least laying somewhere on that curve of change. That's something you're really proud of. What are some of those?

Mark:

Yeah, and I've been really lucky to work with, as I said earlier, with some really good organizations, and mostly work with really wonderful coworkers and colleagues in the places I've been. As I look back, one of things I got involved with early on when I moved to Alaska was there was development of an Asbestos Training Program for a AHERA. Following up with that, there are training programs for HAZWOPER and lead, lots of other things. But in the mid-80s, a lot of those training programs that I was involved in, in Alaska, we with the construction trades and with their labor management training funds.

Mark:

A big part of what we were doing was training some of their experienced members to become peer trainers, to be able to have more capacity to do the training. Have done that with Hazwhopper and lots of other programs up until just my most recent with the service employees. That's been, I think, a real highlight is helping rank and file members, helping frontline supervisors learn enough about health and safety, and practice to become good trainers, and to help spread this work. Part of that is they then learn how to resolve issues, resolve health and safety problems, and to know when they need to call in for more help, and then who to call. That's been something I think has been a real wonderful part of some of my work over time, has been working with peer trainers and helping them grow their capacity to do our work.

Jill:

Right. Right. I often refer to it as teaching people to fish. But we're not ... fishing safety, fishing health, we're passing along the information. I love that part. That's really fulfilling to me as well.

Mark:

I remember getting a call with someone with the Laborer's Union that I'd worked with in Alaska. He'd been to our training, had been a peer trainer and was kind of working on health and safety. He called me one day after hours and he said, "You know, we had this lead exposure job." This was like '87 before the lead rules really kicked in from OSHA and EPA. He said, "You know, I realize lead is sort of like asbestos. Not exactly, but here's what-" and he explained to me what they had done to protect workers on the job he was a supervisor on. It was perfect.

Mark:

It was the perfect thing to do. Where he hadn't done what I would have done, he was more protective because he was realizing that, "I'm kind of out of my depth here." To see people both be able to kind of take what they've learned and apply it to a work site, and then apply it to a different type of work site and do a good job of it, really, really does give you the sense that we're on the right track here with the peer trainers and helping frontline workers and supervisors kind of learn more about how to do this work. And there's plenty of work for us as professionals. We need these folks' help.

Jill:

We absolutely do. Earlier this summer, I was in a social setting in my community and my partner and I were at a public event. He was introducing me to a man that was on a board with him. I said, "Well I actually know who that is. I inspected his company many years ago as an investigator." I said, "He and I had this really powerful experience talking about silica" It was a masonry company. This man had inherited his business from his dad, and silica was a big deal at the time I was doing ... it was coming back as a big deal, rather, at the time I was doing my inspections in the '90s. He was absolutely shocked when I was telling him what the hazards of silica were. He's like, "Why did we not ever know this? Oh my gosh, what do I have to do?"

Jill:

So fast forward to this social setting, my partner introduces me to him. I was like, "Yeah, like to meet you, Joe. I remember you. You might not remember me. Remember? I'm the OSHA lady?" Because that's what everybody called me. He goes, "Oh my gosh. Yes I do remember you." He brings his wife over and he's like, "Julie, do you remember Jill, the OSHA lady?" They're like, "Yes," and then he said, "Do you remember about silica?" I said, "Yes, I do." It's very clear in my mind. It was this big "aha" moment that I couldn't believe that a mason didn't know about this major hazard that they were working with, which again, helped shift and craft the way that I did my work, which was assumed nothing. Just because it was his craft and industry didn't mean that he knew everything about that.

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

That was really sort of a ... It changed the way that they did their work at that time. It was kind of fun to revisit that. And I wasn't reviled as the OSHA lady that day.

Mark:

Yeah, that's my state. It's nice to have it be ... There's some positive outcome to our work because certainly there's this public portrayal that our work is already adversarial, or OSHA's work is adversarial, union work is adversarial, and even it is at times. But in many cases that people don't hear about, our work is very collaborative, and we can still fight inside that collaboration but the outcomes can be very positive for workman's safety and health. I was just thinking, you reminded me of in 1988 or '89 or so, I was working with construction workers in Alaska and some of their contractors in their oil fields, and found out that they had knew almost nothing about benzine, and hazards of benzine.

Mark:

OSHA had just recently updated their benzine standard, but there had been a lawsuit back in the late '70s when OSHA tried to update their benzine standards the first time. It led to a Supreme Court decision, and then years later there was a new final standard. Many of the workers and managers had just thought this had come out of nowhere. They had no idea what the long history had been. So we would do some training and talk about the history. They were both fascinated but sort of appalled in the same way. They're, "Oh my gosh. How come we didn't know this for 15 years? Why is this brand new to us?"

Jill:

Right, very interesting. Mark, you had mentioned you got this great opportunity in Seattle at the university, and you left Alaska to take that. Was that kind of your first job that you had where you weren't having this vast exposure to all these different types of employment settings, or am I guess wrong there?

Mark:

It was really different. Working in an occupational medicine clinic at the University of Washington, we were a research center where we trained occupational medicine docs, and we would provide patient services in the Northwest on occupational disease and some on back injuries and safety health but most of the focus was disease. What was different was I suddenly wasn't going out to work sites very often. What was happening was sick workers were coming to our clinic. We saw lots of workers with asbestosis and potential lung cancer, and some mesothelioma cases. We saw lead poisoning, solvent exposures were very common. Lots of indoor air cases. This was in the early '90s, a lot of indoor air issues. We saw lots of asthma, and several environmental sensitivity cases from around the Northwest from things like crab asthma, which is in the crab processing from Alaska was a common disorder.

Jill:

Who know?

Mark:

Yeah. To workers in radiator shops getting lead poisoning, the historic asbestos diseases that were showing up just because of the long asbestos use in the Pacific Northwest. We were seeing people who would start at the exposures during WWII and workplaces, or the Military and then it's a combination of that. I always urge my young colleagues or students that if you get a chance as a hygienist to work spend time in an occupational medicine clinic, please go do that. Most of us, until you do that, you don't really see the people that have the diseases that result from the failure of health and safety work. It was a fascinating observation on our profession and our work. It was great to work with the physicians and the occupational medicine docs.

Mark:

It was really fun to work with the occupational medicine fellows who were in training. Because we were at the university, we would work with the other divisions of the School of Public Health, so I'd have a chance to work with the Industrial Hygiene faculty and students, undergraduate and graduate, and the Occupational Health Nursing faculty and students. So it was this wonderful collaboration. Then we worked closely with all sorts of other state agencies, some federal agencies, and lots of private sector employers and organizations on safety and health. But it was a really different role because suddenly my role was to explore the exposure histories of workers coming in to help the docs to understand the relationship to the symptoms and the signs they were seeing. It wasn't prevention. It was really sort of after the fact. We try to do prevention, but it's difficult in an occupational medicine clinic to lead on prevention. You're mostly dealing with people who have problems and your kind of dealing with that much more narrow focus, yeah.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

But, I say if you get a chance as a hygienist to go work at a clinic and take exposure histories and work with doctors, it's a really wonderful way to broaden the experience of our profession and see how we can play a stronger role with occupational medicine docs in terms understanding controls, and understanding exposure.

Jill:

Yeah, agree. I spent about three years in an occupational medicine clinic as well. I don't regret any of that time. As well as worker's compensation case management, because it gave you kind of a similar glimpse into that. So that was very powerful. Powerful learning experience for me as well...yeah, go ahead. Mm-hmm (affirmative)?

Mark:

I'm sorry. Part of my work in the clinic, even though I was the Industrial Hygienist, I was the primary one to deal with worker's comp because that was just kind of how it evolved.

Jill:

Oh sure. Yeah. Made sense. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

I was fortunate in that the State of Washington has a state-based worker's comp system that probably functions better than most states, especially around the issue of asbestos disease. There was a small group of Case Managers who had dealt with anything that they had the word asbestos on it, that went into the state worker's comp system that they dealt with. So they actually knew what was going on, they knew what evidence we needed to provide the new treatments. That was really helpful, but the whole part of our work that I hadn't really seen much before, worker's comp.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, yeah. It's good work.

Mark:

Yeah.

Jill:

So you were in the Pacific Northwest. You're currently in Maryland on the other end of the country. Had you mapped out career as to how you were going to end up on the east coast? How did that work for you? I'm assuming there's a lot of years between, but you went from one end to the other. What are the highlights of those stops?

Mark:

I sort of never had a strict career plan other than have work I really like doing, and when opportunity for other good work, I would be happy to move on. I ended up being out west for almost 20 years and so there were two things happening. One was I was at the University of Washington at the Occ Med Clinic for a couple of years. After a couple of years not being at nothing so directly involved in prevention started to kind of seem like that's something I needed to go back to. So I ended up leaving the university and at the end of my time in Seattle, I was actually working for a private sector consulting firm that did occupational environment health. Part of the reason for doing that work was there were a lot of really good colleagues who worked at the firm in Seattle, Presan Associates. They were since bought out and dissolved. The other part was I had had a lot of colleagues who worked in the private sector say, "Well you've mostly worked for unions, non-profits, the university. You don't really know the real-"

Jill:

You don't really know the real world, yeah.

Mark:

"You don't really know the real world." And so I worked with this consulting firm, and that might not be the real world either, but essentially what I was happy to find was that we could do the same level of health and safety work in much of the same that I did working for a union at the consulting firm. The language would be a little different, but I was often working with frontline supervisors or mid-level managers on how to resolve issues. They were, at least the people we worked with, the employers, were people who wanted our services, they were paying us to help them solve problems. If you're at problem solving, then that's easier. We weren't working for companies that were going to hire us who were trying to hide their problem from people.

Mark:

We were a company that actually was pretty well known to be ... We were expensive, but we were well known as people who could help you out. So it was good to see that you could work for the consulting firm, number one, do good work, and do the work in the same way that you could in other areas of our work and have a good impact. I would stay there for a couple of years and then ... I was working with them a couple of years and then there was this opportunity to come to the east coast and to work for another small non-profit that was also one of these committees on occupational safety and health, like I had worked with in Alaska, but it was based in DC. They were doing a huge amount of training of workers, and training peer trainers around the country to do occupational and health work, and it was called The Alice Hamilton Center. After 20 years out west, I felt like moving closer to my siblings and closer to my family, it was time to do that. So I moved back to them. I moved back the DC area, where I've been ever since.

Jill:

Wow. So for anyone who's been listening to Mark share his story and you're thinking, "Whoa, I'd like to get inside that guy's head, or just sit next to him and hear about all of this history," because as you're telling your stories, Mark, you're weaving in all of these historic facts that kind of go along with how did we get where we were in the country at that time? How did these things come to be? And kind of leaning to the background of how all of this happened. I'm interested for you to tell your story about how and why started curating a collection of historic videos about workplace safety.

Mark:

This has been one of the really wonderful parts of the last 15 years. When I started work in '81 and was sort of new to health and safety. The start of my work coincided with sort of a real burst of publications, articles and books about the history of our profession. There were historians at Columbia University who are still around, who've done just wonderful, wonderful books on the history of health and safety. There was lots of interesting research coming out. I was fascinated by that. I would start reading the histories, and the histories of old Industrial Hygienists who had been around since the '30s and '40s. And the AIHA had put out a book on sort of the history of our profession, and that came out in the mid-80s. So I started reading these things and they were fascinating.

Mark:

As I was teaching various classes, I would try to interject some of the history, because I found it interesting, and oftentimes student found it interesting. I kept doing that, and one of the things that happens, just because you're in the profession and you get older, is there training films and things that OSHA had put out, and some other agency had put out in the early '80s and that we'd use them in teaching. It's now the late '90s and I'm still looking at these as new and interesting films. The student reaction is, "Oh, these are really old. Were you alive when these were made?" "Well, they didn't use to be old films." So started taking up, called getting older, that needed to really talk about things that's incorporated in history.

Mark:

When I was working with the service employees at National Union, we had a training grant with a wonderful federal program called The National Institute for Environment Health Sciences Worker Training Program. It's a cooperative grant program that still exists and it's really this wonderful collaboration between public and private sector. It was 2006, and YouTube had come out. The Director of this training grant program, NIHS, a public servant named Chip Hughes, he put out a call because he was always looking at new technology and he said, "Is YouTube something we could use for teaching? Would it be a good resource? How could we think about using this?" So I volunteered as one of the grantees. I volunteered to explore YouTube as a film resource.

Mark:

One of the reasons was I was not a technophile, so I figured if I could do it, most people could do it. I went to YouTube and read some stuff, and I uploaded some films that I had had digitized that were old films I had used in the early '80s from OSHA and uploaded them and it was easy. So I uploaded some more, and it was becoming a good resource. At one point YouTube emailed and said I had a channel, which is the channel we talked about. I was like, "Oh, well that's cool." So I just kept uploading stuff, I kept finding interesting films and materials, and then a colleague who had done some film work had let me know that not far from where I lived on the University of Maryland campus in College Park was the United States Archive Film Library, where they had 300,000 films.

Mark:

So I went there and found out it was not hard to get access to the films, and then with a little bit of equipment, you could actually digitize old films from their archive and take them home with you. They were almost all in a public domain. So I then started this serious hobby of adding films from WWII films on gas masks, and chemical warfare from like 1919 to films on how to put a gas mask on your horse from the Military from WWII. And then a whole range of other occupational health and safety films. I found an old film from the Civilian Conservation Corp from like 1936 on safety and health doing CCC work, and just this whole range of stuff that I just found fascinating and it really fed my interest in history. This film channel, which I continued to maintain as a resource for our profession and for trainers, now has over 1,100 films on it, it's had almost nine million hits over the past 12 years.

Mark:

I continue to add to it. I just added a film recently, I was mentioning to you before we started this, a film on histoplasmosis from the 1950s which talks about farmers developing histoplasmosis from their exposure to dust, and how to control that dust. So this is like something we still do today, right?

Jill:

It absolutely is.

Mark:

We did a podcast earlier in the year about the film channels, and so I think we can link people to that, and I would encourage people to go to my site, take a look at the films, to get a better sense of the history of our profession, of occupational environmental health, but then where you can use them in your teaching, either teaching professionals or teaching workers or managers. I think it can become a wonderful resource for people and I hope people use it. I'm going to continue to do this into my retirement.

Jill:

Exactly, so the name of Mark's YouTube channel is Historic Workplace and Environmental Safety and Health Films. Mark had referred a moment ago that he and I did a webcast earlier this year, which we did together. It's called Heroes in Safety. But I had gotten so interested in listening to Mark's stories about the history of our profession, that I asked him if we could do a webcast together about it, and highlight some of what we ended up calling the Heroes in Safety. So, dating back quite a ways and just kind of marching through history and highlighting a number of people who were really game changers to occupational health and safety across our country. You had mentioned earlier, Mark, that you worked at The Alice Hamilton Center as one of the things that brought you to the east coast. I know we talked about Alice Hamilton in our webcast together. Do you want to give our audience just sort of a glimpse as to some of the contributions that Alice had...?

Mark:

Oh sure, yeah. The organization I worked for had been named after her. Alice Hamilton was an occupational medicine doc, who did her work in around 1910 up until she died in 1970. She was mostly active from about 1910 until the mid-40s. Dr. Hamilton was a rarity. She was a female doctor, which was unusual at the time. Most medical schools didn't allow women to be doctors, but she did that work. She grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, went to medical school at the University of Michigan, and was a physician who worked at Hull House, the community that worked with immigrant workers in the Chicago area. That's where she got her introduction to occupational health issues.

Mark:

She was appointed to a melanoid commission around 1910, 1911 to look at occupational disease in Illinois. Then that work propelled her, that work propelled her to the national stage and international stage as a premier occupational safety and health doc. A lot of her work actually not as a physician. A lot of her work was more of what we call an Industrial Hygienist today, doing workplace inspections and looking at the environment, and looking at controls as opposed to just looking at workers who have illness and disease. So Dr. Hamilton was involved in work during WWII on health and safety and munitions work. She did a lot of work on solvent exposure and lead exposure into the '30s.

Mark:

In 1919, she was appointed to a position at the School of Public Health at Harvard, and she was the first female faculty member at Harvard. So that's one of her claims to fame. She was someone who I learned early on in our profession as the most amazing historical figure. She has a biography that came out on Exploring the Dangerous Trades, which is really a must for anyone who's a student or in our profession, that's a really wonderful book to read. There was a book of her letters, she was a renowned correspondent, so there're huge numbers of her letters that go back and forth on both her health and safety and other work. That's a fascinating read. Then, just two years ago, a colleague at the University of Illinois found a recording of an interview with her in 1963.

Jill:

I was just going to ask you about that, yes.

Mark:

We played part of that on the webcast.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark:

In 1963, there was a series of interviews that were recorded, oral histories of faculty who had been founders of the Harvard School of Public Health and so there's this about an hour and a half interview with her at her home in Connecticut with a dog barking in the background. She's 93, but her voice is still pretty strong. We put a little bit of that up onto website, up onto the channel for people to look at. We've got plans, when we get a chance, to put more of that up because she tells stories about doing occupational health work in the decades before OSHA, when there was no legal right to access it as an outsider, and to do work in lots of industries where health and safety were certainly not, especially the health issues, were not viewed as important issues to work on or work with and so she's one of the heroes that I have, and lots of other folks have, in our profession because she's a really wonderful historical figure to look at.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you so much for starting and maintaining that YouTube channel for us all to be able to access to look back at our own history and where did we come from in this profession that we've chosen and continue to work on. Thank you for doing that.

Mark:

You're welcome. I hope folks will take a look at the channel and use it, and contact me if they have any questions.

Jill:

Absolutely. Mark, as we are getting ready to wrap up today, and you're looking at this lengthy career and all of it's stopping literally across the country, is there any particular advice that you'd have for people now in our profession, or maybe even someone just starting out?

Mark:

I'm not done yet. I have a few more good years in me, I hope.

Jill:

Right, absolutely.

Mark:

The advice that I got early on from some wonderful older, older mentor, was to take opportunities that show up and just go for it, and not to be, especially early on, not to be too concerned about making the wrong choice, because you just make choices. Following that advice led me to Alaska to do wonderful work, that then led me to the University of Washington to do, again, wonderful work. It's led me to keep finding really wonderful places to work and wonderful colleagues to work with. So I would say for people just to be open to opportunities to show up. Do the preparation, prepare yourself both technically and like public speaking. Then just see where it goes. It's sort of luck, but it's also you're prepared for the opportunities that show up.

Jill:

Good advice, Mark. Good advice. Thank you. This has been Mark, Industrial Hygienist, whose just getting started.

Mark:

Thank you, Jill. This has been remarkable to talk with you. Thank you.

Jill:

Oh, I really appreciate your time. Thank you all so much for joining in and listening today. And thank you for the work that you all do to make sure workers make it home safe every day. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com, or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including maybe if it's you, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.