#IAmIH: Brian Alexander, Xcel Energy
Editor’s note: The “I Am IH” series of blog posts stems from AIHA’s #IAmIH project, which seeks to highlight the people behind the industrial hygiene profession. These posts feature Q&As with IHs from across the U.S. More information about #IAmIH is available on AIHA’s website.
What inspired you to enter the profession?
It actually happened by accident (no pun intended). Somewhere in my post-college graduation job search process, a chance encounter at the job service office started me down this path. Like most people, I had never heard of an industrial hygienist, or even workplace safety. But a simple phone call turned out to be an interview with a frantic asbestos removal project manager. The next day, I started my first day on the job after answering one simple question: “Do you know how to use a microscope?” I didn’t at the time, but I do now. And 30 years later, all that I can say is that it’s been quite the ride.
What are the most interesting aspects of your job?
Being an industrial hygienist means I get my boots dirty. Most of the substantive work is somewhere away from the standard office cubicle. On any given day, I may be on construction sites, factory floors, or even mucky tunnels that are the underworld of modern society. It used to be that I could go months without seeing the office or sit at a legitimate work desk. With laptop in hand, it seems normal to be writing reports from a job trailer or returning emails from a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi.
Most situations are outside the box, so you have to adapt and think on your feet. A normal day means being involved with things that most people would find hard to believe. I’ve crawled through some of the nastiest of holes, worked in the most putrid air, cleaned up the most toxic messes, been smack in the middle of chemical releases, and investigated some tragic accidents.
Keeping a positive perspective on things is important. Whenever someone tries to tell me how miserable their day at work was, I’d like to tell them how I’m usually the first one in when things are taking a turn for the worst. It’s sort of like being the human version of the canary in the coal mine.
Why are you proud to be an IH?
I'm actually really proud of the fact that my career has allowed me to be an advocate for promoting safety for average Americans. Countless times I've gone to bat for the men and women on the swing shift, staying up late or getting up early to make America happen. I've done this for those who work with their hands and with their brains, driving trucks and all the other stuff. I've done this for healthy retirements, for the kids and grandkids, and for the hope that is America and the promise that is tomorrow.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about IH?
That we can be professional, educated, dedicated geeks and still have a sense of humor.