Sunday, May 6, 2018

On Volunteering and OHS Practice

Yo, it’s been a while. I can officially say that my second year as an academic was in no way easier than my first year, even though I had most of my classes already prepared. I found other things to fill the time I thought I would have – most of the things were some form of service or volunteering.

I spent the morning hand writing thank you cards (yes, I am someone who still does that!) to my guest speakers from winter and spring quarter, and was reflecting on how important volunteer work has been to my growth as an occupational health and safety (OHS) professional.

Back in 2010, when I was four years out of college and just getting a handle on my career, my local Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) had a Healthcare Section. The primary clients I served as an OHS consultant were healthcare facilities, so I started out as the Secretary of the Healthcare Section and then became the Chair. In this role, I learned how to use MailChimp, how to take decent meeting minutes, how to market our educational meetings to members and non-members, and had the opportunity to network with healthcare OHS professionals from all over the U.S.

After almost four years in that role, I switched my focus to volunteering with the Industrial Hygiene Practice Specialty (IHPS) of ASSE, starting as their Social Media and Website person, and moving into the Publications Chair role after a year or so. In my three years as Publications Chair (now called the Content Coordinator), I became proficient with LinkedIn networking, soliciting articles from members and non-members for our web-based publication, writing articles for the publication, editing submitted articles for the publication, and understanding the role of social media in OHS advocacy.

Within IHPS, I have served (officially and unofficially) in many roles, but my favorite role was Executive Secretary – it felt like I was at the heart of everything IHPS was doing. As Executive Secretary, I kept the minutes from our Volunteer Advisory Committee meetings and was able to help organize and participate in two free webinars (we call them “open calls”) for our membership, one on healthcare safety and another on hazardous drugs handling, spill clean-up and exposure assessment. I was also able to help with ASSE’s comments to NIOSH about the occupational exposure banding guidance.

Thanks to my involvement in IHPS, I was able to participate in the House of Delegates and Council on Practices and Standards (CoPS). I was also selected to speak at Safety 2016 in Atlanta and Safety 2017 in Denver. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to submit a proposal to speak if I was not so involved in ASSE. Thanks to the local and regional events I spoke at in Arizona, I felt I was ready to take things to the next level.

In 2016, I took on an even more daunting role. After losing the election for Assistant Administrator for IHPS, I emailed ASSE staff and asked them which practice specialty needed help – where my efforts could do the most good. I ran for Assistant Administrator of the Training and Communications Practice Specialty (TCPS) and won. I take over as Administrator of TCPS in July 2018, which is pretty exciting.

In 2016, I also moved away from my Arizona ASSE Chapter, where I had many friends and contacts, to join Central Washington University (CWU). I became a member of the Puget Sound ASSE Chapter. Since their meetings are in the early mornings in downtown Seattle, I haven’t been able to attend due to my teaching schedule, but I spent the last two years on the Puget Sound ASSE Professional Development Conference (PDC) planning committee. Being part of the planning committee has helped me network with local OHS professionals, and I was lucky enough to co-present at this year's conference with the incredible Jeff Dalto of Convergence Training (recap and details here).

This year, I served as the Faculty Advisor for my CWU ASSE Student Section, helping them organize guest speakers, volunteer activities, and interest other CWU students in safety. We submitted an application for the Outstanding Student Section Award (OSSA) and were #3 out of 19 qualifying schools. We conducted a personal protective equipment (PPE) drive with CWU Safety and Health Management alumni from Mortenson, sending 3 packed boxes of PPE to the University of Puerto Rico to help with hurricane reconstruction efforts.

So, to sum up, this academic year I served ASSE in the following roles:
  • Assistant Administrator of TCPS 
  • Executive Secretary of IHPS for half the year, and now Professional Development Chair of IHPS 
  • Puget Sound ASSE PDC planning committee 
  • Faculty Advisor for CWU ASSE Student Section

In return for my volunteer efforts with ASSE, I have:
  • Made lifelong friends who I love seeing at conferences 
  • Built an impressive network of excellent OHS professionals 
  • Improved my technical writing and editing skills 
  • Become comfortable living part of my professional life online 
  • Gained experience organizing seminars and conferences 
  • Learned consensus building and conflict management 
  • Had the opportunity to speak at local, regional, and national-level events 
  • Been published in Professional Safety (March 2018 issue, useful summary here
  • And much more! 

Why the long post sharing my experience volunteering for ASSE? I’ve been volunteering for 8 years now, and I’m looking forward to the next 8. Or 20, or however long my professional career in OHS lasts. I want to encourage the next generation to get involved with ASSE early in their career, like I did, and reap the personal and professional benefits.

All of the skills I obtained through my volunteer work have benefited my career.  If it hadn’t been for some careful nudging by my various mentors through the years, I might not have “put myself out there” and started volunteering.

The Industrious Hygienist is back and more determined than ever!

Will you answer the call? Will you share your experience and your expertise, and help build the future of OHS practice through advocacy and volunteer leadership? Or will you just watch it happen? #NextGenSafety #IndustriousHygienist #TalkSafetyWithUs

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