Editor’s Note: Christopher Rhodes is the vice president of HSE Pacific LLC, which began business in 2018 in Guam. He is responsible for implementing and managing safety, industrial hygiene, occupational health and environmental systems with a focus on federal services, heavy construction and general industry. Key services include on-site staffing and consultation, training and education, organizational development, hazard identification and prevention, reporting and control planning, analysis, compliance, inspections, loss prevention, and risk assessment or audits.
Rhodes has more than 20 years of experience in his field. His most recent appointments include time as HSE manager for the Yongsan Military Base Relocation and Construction program in Pyeongtaek, Korea; HSE manager for CH2M Hill/Bridges to Prosperity in Rwimvubu, Rwanda; HSE manager for CB&I in Haiyang in China; International Programs ESQ manager at ECC in Guam.
Rhodes holds a 1995 bachelor’s in environmental health from Colorado State University, a 2004 master’s in industrial hygiene from Tulane University and a 2008 executive juris doctorate from Concord Law School.
He has undertaken additional specialized training, is a member of several professional organizations and holds a number of specialized certifications.
Q: The field of industrial hygiene covers a lot of different products – such as asbestos, lead-based paint and more. Please comment.
A: Those are just some of the basics that are associated with the profession. Industrial Hygiene revolves around the reduction of occupational exposure to chemicals, biological, physical, and ergonomic hazards. IH professionals use an array of equipment and laboratory analysis to conduct hazard assessments. The results of these assessments allow us to develop and implement policies, programs and procedures to reduce or eliminate workplace exposures to hazards.
Q: Is industrial hygiene a relatively new area of expertise?
A: The profession’s roots can be traced back to the 4th Century BC when Hippocrates noted lead toxicity in the mining industry. Early Romans made face masks out of animal bladders to protect worker exposure to lead dust. Although IH has been practiced in some form or another for centuries, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene was incorporated in 1960 and served as the catalyst to recognize IH as an area of expertise. IH has evolved into both undergraduate and graduate level degree programs with accredited institutions.
Q: How much of your work involves training, and passing your knowledge on to others at the companies you have worked in, or consult to?
A: Training can occur on many different levels and a major part of the job. There are regulatory requirements for vertical standards when working with certain types of chemicals as well as training requirements to specific hazards such as a Confined Space Entry. Most individuals spend a large portion of their day at the workplace; occupational health is important for the individual, employer, industry, and even the health care system to mitigate workplace injuries, illnesses and hazards. As a certified IH, I feel there is a requirement and enjoy passing on some degree of knowledge throughout the workplace. We are there to ensure a safe work environment, which ultimately creates a better company. Sharing knowledge of our discipline is an essential link to achieving that.
Q: How does industrial hygiene overlap with occupational safety and health training?
A: There is overlap. In many ways, IH is the health in occupation safety and health. When I first started working in the industry after college, safety and IH were two distinct fields. To some degree they still are but many IHs today are also certified and proficient in safety. I conduct just as much safety training as industrial hygiene opics, so for me there really isn’t a line anymore. I just make sure I am qualified or certified, when required, to conduct the training.
Q: Is risk assessment valuable to the companies you work with?
A: Risk assessments are invaluable to any company. They are a must if you are going to operate in a safe and efficient manner. Risk assessments not only ensure the safety of your employees, but also enhance the economics of safety including more efficient production and quality. The benefits and value are well documented. There are a lot of published materials on this specific topic, which support the cost benefit analysis of implementing risk assessments and creating programs. Without them, companies are generally balancing a very fine line between operations and luck. Luck usually isn’t a preferred business model.
Q: But there’s only so much preventative actions you can take. What happens when something like asbestos is discovered?
A: With proper planning, unexpected issues can be less disruptive and resolved faster with implementation of the plan. Generally, something like Asbestos or Lead, these are already inspected for in advance or it is known already and there could be a chance of discovery. When it is discovered, there is already a plan in place on how to deal with it including training for employees based on what to look for and what to do if something of concern is identified. The area is isolated and proper sampling or mitigation methods are implemented. This is a common occurrence with MEC/UXO construction projects on Guam.
Q: How much compliance and reporting are required in your field?
A: The health, safety, and environment field is compliance based. Following the compliance and reporting requirements, it can become a system and an art form for many issues such as asbestos and lead that are regulated by both OSHA and the EPA. Other agencies, methods, and requirements such as ANSI, NIOSH, NFPA, ASTM, UFGS are many times referenced in the standards, so we have to be aware of their content and how it applies. Working with DOD projects also has contractual requirements; therefore, we need to know how to apply both sets of standards when applicable. Compliance and reporting are essential to the field.
Q: Your career has taken you around the U.S. mainland and to international destinations.
Any travel tips you can share, or comments about living overseas?
A: Learn and appreciate the local culture both in and out of the work environment. Just because they do things differently does not automatically make it wrong. Understand their reasons for doing it. With understanding, you can build from there and work together on making the work environment a safe and efficient place. Personally, I have always tried to learn something from everyone I have worked with overseas which has helped create a large arsenal of best practices in most environments.
Q: And any thoughts on the current COVID-19 situation and prevention at companies and in the field?
A: COVID 19 is unique in how it affects the workplace. It is a ubiquitous agent that presents workplace hazards unlike other etiological agents, that usually remain a social issue. Employers need to be cognizant when they issue and especially require Personal Protective Equipment such as respiratory protection, including N-95 Dust Masks. Once PPE use is mandated by an employer, strict OSHA standards must be followed. All employers should do what they can to implement the most current CDC suggestions. Physical distancing can be practiced in the majority of workplaces with some planning and re-arranging. High touch areas need to be identified and mitigation measures taken to reduce likely hood of viral transmission. Hazard assessments, as mentioned above, are perfect tools to identify issues and how to mitigate. My approach is to tell everyone to practice universal precautions. Act like you have the disease and don’t want to spread it. Assume everyone is infected and take precautions not to be exposed. mbj