Health and Hygiene specialist
Who do you work for?
Rio Tinto Coal Australia at its Hunter Valley Operations and Mount Thorley Warkworth mines in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales
What does your job involve?
Occupational hygiene is not about teaching people how to wash their hands! In my role I oversee the occupational hygiene monitoring programme for site. This involves identifying potential harmful contaminants to workers, assessing and evaluating the level of exposures to these contaminants using monitoring equipment and then implementing control options to reduce the levels of exposures to the workers to safe levels. Harmful contaminants can include: respirable crystalline silica dust, noise, chemicals, asbestos, welding fume, vibration, heat stress and water quality.
Why did you choose to work in this sector?
I was interested in the health industry but was better at chemistry and physics than biology. I wanted a job which didn’t require office based work all the time and one where I could have the opportunity to see direct changes in the workplace as a result of my work. I also love investigating why things do/don’t work the way they are meant to. This job requires a lot of investigating (almost like the TV show CSI).
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
I feel I am making a positive contribution to the workplace and often convince myself that ‘I save people’s lives’. I do this through ensuring the workers’ health is protected and they are not being exposed to harmful contaminants in the workplace when they don’t need to be.
What has been one of your recent achievements?
A proactive assessment I conducted identified areas for improvement. After presenting my assessment results to site management I then led the engagement with site operators and maintainers to identify the appropriate controls. It’s really pleasing to know that my work is contributing to keeping our people safe.
What is the most challenging part of your current job?
Advising multiple departments across two different coal mines when everyone has a different opinion on how to control health exposures.
What do you hope to do in the future?
I would like to extend my skills and work in a refinery or smelter to see what other occupational hazards there are in the workplace and would love to work overseas.
What are some of the other benefits of your job?
You get to know nearly everyone on site which really helps with networking. This really helps with your job when sometimes you need to involve multiple departments when trying to find a solution.
You also get to play with some cool equipment which enables you to assess the environment with the goal of ensuring everyone stays safe and healthy.
Not having to be in the office all day is a bonus. Most of my day is spent out in the field talking to the workers and absorbing their knowledge whilst trying to help them stay safe. This interaction sees you talking with so many people on site from the apprentices’ right up to the general managers. You get to learn about so many different jobs such as operating heavy equipment, welding processes and maintenance tasks. You even get to go to places on site that most people don’t get to see. Every day you learn something different.
What training did you have for this job?
- Upper secondary school
- I did Maths B & C and Chemistry
- After secondary school
- Tertiary course in Physics
- I completed a Masters in Science
What career advice would you give to school students interested in a similar career?
This career involves a knowledge of chemistry and statistics with a bit of creative engineering. You need to be able to make a professional judgement based on the data you have collected and the current research that is available. There are opportunities in Occupational Hygiene to work all around the world in a huge variety of industries such as mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, construction, and refining.