This is exactly the type of insight I am in need of right now. Thank you so very much, Mike, and congratulations on saw an awesome career journey.
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
University of Michigan – Flint
Your question describes my career path almost exactly.
I got my first job out of school (1970) working as a Technician in the same chemistry department I graduated from (1969). Cal Poly San Luis Obispo grew in enrollment from about 9000 to about 17,000 over the next 23 years - my time with the Chemistry department. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is part of the California State University system (CSU - now 21 campuses, I think)
My Chem safety training and Chemical hazard training was minimal and haphazard in the early days (there was a sign in each lab that read "Safety Glasses Recommended" that everyone ignored) and everything went down the drain or in the trash. That was my chemical experience as an undergraduate student in those days. The EPA didn't even exist until a year after I graduated, and I (we) didn't even hear about it/think about it until until several years later (small, rural college town).
In about 1973 (guessing) I became interested in the idea that some kind organized thought and action should be applied to chemical handling with respect to the hazards involved. Before the internet, the mechanism was to receive in the mail advertising flyers from chemical companies who had begun to put together chemical safety programs of their own. J.T Baker had a good one at the time (probably still does), and I managed to get a 2-day training trip funded to one of the training seminars in San Francisco. I still have the binder with all the 35mm slides in it. I managed to get in two or three additional training seminars like this in the next few years.
Eventually I began collecting laboratory wastes in recycled 5-gallon solvent cans for disposal other-than-down-the-drain. We operated 8 undergraduate laboratories and no research. Almost everything was lab book procedure driven. There is a longer story about how all this worked out.
By default / common knowledge I became known as the "safety guy" (not a real position) in the department, and eventually won great support, including a small budget, from a new supervisor and a new department chair (about 1980). The department always did have a designated Safety Officer which was a faculty member who volunteered (apparently) for this figure-head function.
We began (I began) live "Haz Chem" training sessions for our Student Assistants (who were "employees" in this role). I created and presented these modeled after the J.T. Baker program I attended. Every quarter the Stockroom hired 6 or 8 students to work 5 to 10 hours per week - mostly glassware washing and other various fetch and carry tasks - using chemicals and lab equipment. We didn't offer training for the students enrolled in the lab sections. The curriculum was already full and my position on the food chain was too low justify rattling that particular cage. And I knew by then that about half of our faculty at the time would be antagonistic toward any safety nonsense I might wish to intrude with.
In the early 1970's I made contact with a professional contractor for Hazardous Waste disposal. Frank Balistreri of North State Environmental walked into my office on a cold call with a business card in his hand. ("Cal Poly Next Exit" is a big sign on both the north bound and south bound highway 101. Only one freeway passes through San Luis Obispo; I was easy to find.) Cal Poly ended up doing business with North State for the next 30 years.
In 1993 two new positions were created in the EH&S department because the Administration was "concerned about environmental compliance". EH&S originally had two people up to that point, then one got laid off in 1992.
During my interview I asked a question about job security and part of the answer I got was the "concern for regulatory compliance" statement.
My function was Chemical and Lab Safety ( and a few other things). We cross trained extensively from the beginning. The other new position involved the management of asbestos issues on campus. I came from the Chemistry Department the he (Tim Hastings, the asbestos guru) came from the Physics Department. At that time (March 15, 1993, my first day) we were four: the EH&S Director, David Ragsdale, the Asbestos guy (sorry Tim !), a Fire Marshall, who was the last remaining Fire Engineer from the disbanded Cal Poly Fire Department, and me. Over the next few years EH&S added a few more positions: Water resource management, an alarm technician, and a Training specialist.
My biggest initial adjustment in moving from Chemistry to EH&S was un-learning how to speak Apple and learning how to speak Micrsosoft. Windows 95 was a jewel!
Going from an Academic department to an Administrative department (EH&S exists within the "Administration and Finance Division", AFD) revealed a few significant changes:
>> I was no longer tied to the academic calendar. "End of a quarter" and "beginning of a quarter" were no longer hard deadlines for most things.
>> There was more money for things. As a technician in the chem department I ended up with a computer when and if there was a hand me down available at the time. At EH&S, computers were updated (replaced with new) every three years because the technology advanced that fast. Admin wanted everyone in AFD to be equipped with current equipment.
>> Really great training opportunities were available, and we were expected to participate, and I went gleefully. Sometimes just one of us, sometimes the whole staff would go to something. I got my RSO training this way (5 days in Bakersfield - it was a utilitarian trip).
>> I acquired a "Title": "Chemical Hygiene Officer" and my first ever business cards, although my payroll status was still at the level of "Support Technician", but at the highest step. I was the first CHO Cal Poly had. This afforded me a small level of respect across the campus in my interactions with various departments.
>> Coming from a Technician background in Chemistry, I already knew the first names most of the Support Technicians in many of the campus departments I now dealt with as clients. Having a personal history really helps. This may not be the case with may CHO's. Cal Poly was something of an extended family at the time. I had keys that would open almost every door, and I visited everywhere and I knew almost everybody. I also know the location of every men's room in every building (about 40 buildings). Familiarity breeds attempt.
>> While I was still at the Chemistry Department (1970 to 1993) I was functioning as ( was creating, actually) the position of CHO within the department, although I didn't know what that was at the time, and the designation didn't even exist until the Lab Standard was created within the OSHA regulations in the early 1990's.
>> I'm not sure how the CHO position relates to the rest of the campus community when the CHO is a member of the staff in a given academic department (usually Chemistry). The Chemistry Department isn't the only place on campus that has and uses chemicals, has laboratories and hoods and emergency showers, uses chemicals on a "laboratory scale", and what about that guy using a "drum dolly" to move around a 55 gallon drum of 95% sulfuric acid at the facility boiler plant? I just don't know enough about how other institutions handle the CHO role as a Chemistry Faculty/Staff member. Does this person address only Chemistry Department issues, or do other campus departments get attention , too?
>> Working only within a Chemistry Department gives you a smaller universe to operate within (assuming you handle only Chem Department issues). The joy in your work may depend on how much "release time" you get to perform CHO tasks versus being to asked to take care of CHO things in your "free time" . The management of Hazardous Waste may be different for a Chemistry Only CHO; you don't have to interact much or at all with the Hazardous Waste contractor, although I know the Waste pick up logistics can vary from campus to campus.
>> Working in a campus EH&S department gives you more opportunities for Cross Training and involvement in tasks you might not otherwise encounter. You get to decide whether this is an asset or a liability. With only 4 of us in the EH&S office I got to participate in all the chem safety and chemical waste activities that were my main gig, plus I had occasion to help out with:
dead animals in the creek (when my turn came, it was a chicken)
open source radioisotope management (as RSO),
emergency asbestos release cleanup,
chemical spill response bigger than the people on site could handle (Hg metal or oil or sulfuric acid were common)
Off-road vehicle (Jeep) over a hill side and upside down in a running creek (We laid out non-polar absorbent pads on the water for leaking fuel and oil. Battery acid, if any, was not recoverable)
I drove the fork lift for Haz Waste loading every 90 days,
I hunted for the mysterious sources of elevated zinc, copper, and ammonia that plagued our waste water (sewer water effluent) at the insistence of our city waste water manager (found the copper and zinc sources - different sources, ammonia was a hypothesis but unconfirmed),
I trained on a high lift bucket truck,
I was trained in the use of a SCBA (Breathing Apparatus like fire fighters wear - needed it a couple of times)
I was trained as an Asbestos Contractor Supervisor, and as an Asbestos Inspector,
I did fire extinguisher training and forklift operator training
Twice each year I assisted with fire alarm testing ( in really big buildings: Library and Admin building and the Performing Arts Center)
I performed Food Safety inspections occasionally during our annual Open House - many "temporary restaurant" booths on the Dexter Lawn where student clubs sold pizza, or burgers, or tacos, or BBQ meat skewers, and more.
I received training and eventually became a trainer of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) in cooperation with the City Fire Department.
...all I can think of right now.
How much of this would a Chemistry CHO get to do or want to do? You get to decide if this is a good thing or something to avoid..
Thanks for listening.
Part-Time Faculty Member
LPS (Chemistry), Allan Hancock College
and, CHO (retired) Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
From: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
on behalf of Wilhelm, Monique <mwilhelm**At_Symbol_Here**UMFLINT.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 4:59:19 PM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Career Change Question
Does anyone have experience working as a CHO in an EHS dept vs chemistry dept? Or PUI vs R01 institution? Could you offer any pros or cons to any of the above?
Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone
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