Ehstoday 10125 Kathleen Murphy Sherwin Williams 0

Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things

May 16, 2019
Kathleen Murphy, incoming president of AIHA, discusses the trends in industrial hygiene and offers advice on recruiting young people to the profession.

As Kathleen Murphy, CIH, steps into her new role as president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) this month, she will lean on a career that encompasses more than 25 years of experience within business, consulting and government. Currently serving as director, global regulatory affairs for paint and coatings manufacturer Sherwin Williams Co., she has also worked at global corporations such as PolyOne, Honeywell and ExxonMobil. 

“I have been fortunate to have held a variety of jobs in industry, consulting and OSHA,” Murphy says. “My background helps me to understand the needs of many of our members who represent a very diverse set of expectations.” Her various roles within AIHA leadership in recent years have also helped her to understand how AIHA functions. “We are a complex organization with everything from IT and financial obligations to proficiency analytical testing (PAT), accreditation, standards engagement, registries, training/education and the Product Stewardship Society.”

EHS Today asked Murphy to talk about her background, leadership style and how she envisions the future of the field. 

What got you interested in a career in industrial hygiene? 

Murphy: Like many others, I found IH by accident when my sister suggested I apply for a job with OSHA. I worked hard to learn IH, became a CIH and have never looked back. It has truly been a rewarding career.

What are some of the top trends that will affect the industry over the next few years? 

Murphy: Retirements will continue to impact our membership and our profession. Increased data creates challenges on how to use it; how to set occupational exposure limits (OELs); what privacy protections need to be put into place; and how to explain the results to workers and their organizations. 

The move from manufacturing to service industry or contract work will continue to challenge how to characterize their exposures and capture the data for future use.

Do you feel that the current state of worker health is better than in the past? 

Murphy: Yes and no. We have better methods of detection of illness and many new treatments for diseases than we did in the past, but we also face new hazards like exposure to opioids or cannabis for workers.

Also, ergonomic injuries and hearing loss continue to affect our aging workforce.

Have technology and the increased availability of data provided better health outcomes?

Murphy: Electronic health records may provide data that was difficult to mine in the past, but it also brings questions of privacy. The challenge with some of the new technology is that there are vast amounts of data instead of a few data points. We need to learn how to mine the data to identify health outcomes earlier than was previously possible.

How has the practice of IH changed? 

Murphy: The “how” has changed or is changing but not the basic principles of anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control. There are new direct reading instruments, sampling pumps and noise monitoring equipment, and OEL setting is moving away from single chemical to banding or other risk determination measures. Industrial hygiene professionals remain passionate protectors of worker health while learning new ways to approach their jobs.

How would you characterize your leadership style?

Murphy: Inclusive. I try to gather ideas from everyone and then select from the best ideas. My current team knows that we will agree to a path forward, think about it for a few days, then tweak it to be even better. 

AIHA has used our Open Call process to try to get more of our members involved and to provide greater transparency, which I think is really important. I am also very interested in career and succession planning and this applies to my job as well as my volunteer work.

What are some of the strategies the field is using to attract younger professional?

Murphy: We have developed materials to be used from elementary school through emeritus IH to show what is possible in the profession. Mentoring young professionals and providing them with career coaching and leadership training are also important ways to connect with them. 

We need to emphasize some of the softer side of our profession, which is about protecting workers and improving health outcomes in addition to our normal message about STEM. Sharing our stories whenever we can, using a message targeted to the audience, will continue to be a winning strategy.

What advice would you offer to young practitioners? 

Murphy: Work hard, get certified and don’t be afraid to try new things. The variety of jobs that I have held because I was willing to try something different has rewarded me with great jobs, meeting great people, visiting a wide variety of work locations in a lot of interesting places and, most importantly, remaining a lifetime learner.  EHS

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