AIHA PresidentElect Barbara Dawson

Q&A With AIHA President-Elect Barbara Dawson

This month, Barbara J. Dawson, CIH, CSP, will take over leadership of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in Falls Church, Va., is an international professional society representing 10,000 occupational and environmental health and safety professionals – supported by 50 staff – with 75 chapters across the country. 

In addition to her role as president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, Barbara J. Dawson, CIH, CSP, is the global occupational health competency leader for the DuPont Co. in Wilmington, Del. DuPont conducts business in over 90 countries with 65,000 employees.

See Also: Occupational Industrial Hygiene in the Workplace

Dawson served as the chair of the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and as president of two local AIHA sections. She was named as an AIHA Fellow in 2009. Prior to working at DuPont, Dawson was an industrial hygienist with SmithKline Beecham Corp. (now GlaxoSmithKline) and the Rohm and Haas Co.

Question: What are the issues most impacting the practice and profession of industrial hygiene in 2013-2014?

Barbara Dawson (BD): I think it's an incredibly exciting time to be in this field. There is so much changing all around us. I see many opportunities.

Certainly all STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) associations are struggling with demographic issues, which have required us to be purposeful and deliberate not only about how to engage early career professionals and students, but also how to continue to engage our more tenured members who have a lot of knowledge and wisdom to offer AIHA and the IH community and are continuing to work rather than retire because of the economy.

 At the same time, AIHA, like many associations, is celebrating a milestone birthday. In AIHA's case, we will turn 75 in 2014. This has caused the board to pause and celebrate our incredible success over the past 75 years while also looking forward and asking ourselves "what do we want to be known for in another 75 years?"

Question: In your opinion, what two or three standards should OSHA focus on promulgating and why?

BD: AIHA values and appreciates OSHA's work but we also recognize how difficult the regulatory and standards setting environment is right now. Standards that come to mind include silica, I2P2 and safe patient handling, to name just a few.

Question: What are the greatest challenges facing AIHA and the practice of EHS in general for the next 1-5 years?

BD: Among all the challenges, which are many and are, in my opinion, really opportunities, the greatest one is relevance. IH and EHS professionals must, in my mind, continue to demonstrate the value we bring to the public interest and the bottom lines of businesses. Together, we ensure a global population stays healthy and free from occupational disease and returns home from work safely so people everywhere can continue to enjoy quality lives with their families and loved ones. This is a daunting task and we must remain relevant and vigilant.

Question: What have been AIHA's greatest triumphs in the past 2 years?

BD: From an internal perspective we continue to build leadership capacity among and between our volunteers and our board. Our volunteers form the backbone of AIHA. Their work, thoughts, knowledge and input help make AIHA a vibrant, engaged community. And we are supported by a great staff with whom we feel a very strong partnership. Externally, we have done a much better, more deliberate job of being more aware of what members and the general marketplace are telling us what they need/want from us.

Question: What is AIHA's position on the proposed budgets for OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH?

BD:While not being entirely positive for OSHA as compared to FY13 final funding of around $565 million, it should be considered a positive that the agency received a small increase.  What is even more positive is the fact that the president recognized that the sequester cuts went way too far when it comes to protecting worker health.

The budget for NIOSH doesn't look nearly as positive. On the surface it looks like NIOSH would lose more than $50 million. The biggest cuts would be the proposed cuts in funding for the ERCs and the AFF program, accounting for about half of the proposed cuts. However the remaining cuts are hard to completely see as the NIOSH budget entails so many different areas. We will have to wait for NIOSH to show what exactly will be cut.

Question: As an organization, what is AIHA doing to remain relevant to its membership and the practice of EHS?

BD: We are becoming better and more constant curators of knowledge and information. I think that is critical to our long-term success. We also are looking at engaging members in more and different ways, certainly taking advantage of available technology but also balancing that with in-person, face-to-face opportunities. And in the area of practice standards and core competencies, we are going to be able to be broader and deeper in our involvement in those areas that are of most importance to industrial hygiene.

Question: Are we doing enough to encourage young people to enter the field? What is AIHA doing to mentor young members (or potential members)?

BD: Ah, the age-old question of the last decade – how to get young people interested and engaged in the IH and/or EHS profession. We certainly do what most associations are doing in terms of reverse mentoring, mentoring, student chapters, special student membership/conference/education rates, etc. We are on the constant lookout for what more we might be able to do. We have a very active group of student and early career professionals who are helping us with programing and activities to attract younger people into the profession and to retain them as members.

Question: What would you like to be known for during your tenure at AIHA?

BD: I would like to be known as a collaborator and an inclusive leader who invites input from many, listens and digests it, and then helps lead the AIHA board and staff team to appropriate action.

I would like to look back on my entire AIHA tenure as a committee chair, local section member and officer, and on the board and feel satisfied that I was a part of a greater whole who left AIHA and the IH profession stronger than when I found it so that others can build upon that, and so on and so on...!

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