With each prod, measure, test and compilation, Stephanie Gillian, an industrial hygienist, works to protect the health of District employees by developing, testing, and implementing a wide variety of policies, programs, and aiming for a healthier and safer work environment.
“Not many people understand what I do when I try to explain it,” laughs Gillian, who has been with the District for almost a year.
Industrial hygienists like Gillian provide a full range of services including chemical and noise sampling, ergonomics assessments, hazard assessments and indoor air quality testing.
“It’s my job to prioritize the health and safety of our team by ensuring their exposure assessment needs are being met,” said Gillian. “I do that by evaluating hazards and providing recommendations for employee protection.”
Originally from Camden, South Carolina, Gillian works out of the Columbia field office with regular visits to the Charleston area to conduct interviews with employees to understand their jobs and environments better, hopefully uncovering potential risk factors that can be measured and reduced.
“I also study individual employee work tasks through interviews and site visits,” she said. “Through monitoring and understanding, I try to determine if how they are doing their job could be something causing an exposure which could be harmful to their health, with the idea of trying to prevent hazards before they happen.”
So, the first question she gets asked the most is, what is an industrial hygienist? According to her, the second that usually follows is how do you become one?
“I am a biologist by trade, but my first degree was in environmental engineering and one of the classes was toxicology –which studies the effects of toxins on humans and the environment,” she said. “I fell into the field with the intrigue of the environment, specifically nature and its many stressors.”
Although there are many canvases for an industrial hygienist, her main canvas and focus are on employees and their work environments. Her career has included being a safety engineer and a compliance officer.
During her first year, she has conducted annual industrial hygiene assessments for St. Stephen Powerhouse, CASA Survey and Construction and Regulatory employees.
So, how do the environment and humans working coexist?
A great example is the Charleston District’s St. Stephen Powerhouse. Employees at that work site deal with very loud turbines – so measures are necessary to protect the employees and ensure guidance within the OSHA and USACE standards for the hearing conservation program. Gillian does routine measurements there to ensure the safety and compliance of the employees.
According to Gillian, the best part about her job is being out in the field, talking to everybody and seeing what they do.
“We have a diverse workforce in USACE,” she said. “Regardless of whether it’s construction work, survey work or working at the powerhouse – there are a lot of moving parts – and getting to know the people and figuring out if there is an issue is the most important part.”
A very inquisitive person, Gillian is a master naturalist, intrigued with nature and its effects and impacts on humans and the environment. To become an elite in the field, there is a particular path she has followed to becoming a certified industrial hygienist.
“I tried to take certain jobs along my career path to align myself to get the right experience and opportunities,” she says enthusiastically. “Now I have the right job with the right resources to take on the industrial hygienist certification process.”
Gillian graduated Cum Laude, receiving her Bachelor of Science from Limestone College, Gaffney, South Carolina. Earning the trust of employees is the most critical part of my job, according to Gillian.
“To know that they can talk to me about their concerns and that I can be of service to them by helping them get resolve. That’s a great day,” she said.
Already making a difference, she was part of the District’s successful 5-Star Safety Flagship Assessment, making Charleston District the first USACE district to achieve this award.
With a certification in her near future, Gillian continues to solve work environmental riddles using complex mathematical and scientific algorithms to ensure the safety and health of our employees are paramount.