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Detours in the Path: A Tale of 3 Industrial Hygiene Professionals [The Synergist / AIHA]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
The Synergist / American Industrial Hygiene Association
September 1996

Ever wish you could just quit your job? you want new challenges, you need to explore your options. But it is such a big risk to make a change. V\That if you don’t like your new job? What if you move to a more challenging role and find you are in over your head? Or what if you just take a year off?

The following three industrial hygiene professionals have faced those dilemmas. Chris Cole left a plant setting at NASA to pursue a career as an entrepreneur, and is learning to adapt his knowledge to the business world as president of HID Recycling.

John Wright spent years at DuPont perfecting his skills before going off to be a consultant, and has recently found his way back into an industrial setting as director of occupational safety and environmental compliance at Harsco Corp.

And Luna Chandna, a young woman who had begun to make a name for herself in this traditional male-dominated profession, had a baby last September and decided despite her hard work she needed to take off the past year to raise her son.

She is hoping to return to the business full-time this fall. They all say they have no regrets about their choices, but each admits there have been moments of frustration. Still, none of these professionals would change their lives.

“You have to be comfortable with whatever decision you make in your career,” says Chandna. “You must do what feels right and not spend time worrying about what others think. After all, you are the only one who has to live with the decision.”

A LEAP OF FAITH: Chris Cole, president, HID Recycling

Chris Cole wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, in September 1994, after six years as an industrial hygiene expert at the NASA Lewis Research Center, he quit.

Two weeks later he was living his dream. Only, it wasn’t exactly what he imagined. Cole found himself the president of HID Recycling, a new subsidiary of Advanced Lighting Technologies Inc., which is a member of the worldwide conglomerate Venture Lighting International Inc. Despite the huge organization around Cole, no one was available to help him start his company.

“Everyone was so busy and didn’t have time to give me the attention I needed,” says Cole, 47. “1 went around and looked for support, but finally went out and put my own team together.” That team is made up of a handful of consultants including a full-time safety and health professional, an occupational physician, and a part-time health physicist who works as a radiation safety officer.

They work together to promote the recycling of Venture Lighting’s metal halide lamps. Cole also provides environmental hygiene and safety advice to the company’s other subsidiaries. Cole considers himself an entrepreneur and an entrepreneur.

“I feel like I am running my own company most of the time,” he says. “But, I have the big advantage of a strong structure around me for financial support and for giving me broad direction.

Beyond that, it’s all up to me.” Cole has found a niche for the fledgling HID Recycling by focusing on simplicity. He makes it as easy as possible for his customers to recycle their lamps.

“Buy a lamp and when you want to dispose of it, call each day I am our 800-number,” he explains. “We’ll send you a UPS label. You re-pack the spent lamp in our special patented Spartpac box, affix the label and ship it back. We take care of the records, the regulations, and of course, the recycling.”

Cole also created a spin-off called HID Recovery which gathers components and sub-assembled parts from the lamp manufacturing floor, cuts out re-usable pieces and sells them back to the manufacturer at one-third the cost of a new part.

Getting to this point in his company’s evolution has been a hard fought battle, but one that Cole says he feels he has finally won.

“The CEO said to me this spring, ‘This is what I wanted to do last year, why didn’t we do it then?’ My response was simply, ‘I am smarter this year.”’

One of the things he is smarter about, he says, is his concept of what it means to be a success.

“There is a perception that when you become the president of a company you have made it,” he says. “But there are no guarantees in business. Plans change. You will do almost everything wrong. Hopefully you and your backers have a high tolerance for failure.”

“The important thing is to make sure you learn from the experience,” he says. “I am not as worried about the future as long as I focus on the fact that each day I am learning.”

DEDICATED TO WORKPLACE SAFETY: John Wright, safety director, Harsco Corp.

He calls himself a “broadly experienced manager,” and in fact since he started his industrial hygiene career in the mid-1970s, he has worked on more than 350 environmental affairs and occupational safety and health projects around the world. He is John Wright, the director of occupational safety and environmental compliance at Harsco Corp., an industrial manufacturing company based in Camp Hill, Pa.

He is also working to eradicate workplace injury at Harsco where the loss workday case rate was 3.3 worldwide in 1995. By 2000, Wright hopes to knock that rate down to 0.5.

“We feel that all accidents are preventable and want there to be a zero workplace accident rate,” Wright says. This is no easy task. Harsco has more than 13,000 employees at 175 facilities in 30 countries. Harsco also has its fingers in many businesses. The company builds railway maintenance equipment, works out of 130 steel mills, builds industrial grating products, scaffolding and roofing granules.

It also makes industrial pipefittings, valves and regulators, and gas containment products. On top of that, Harsco holds a 40 percent ownership in United Defense, which manufactures ground combat vehicles for the United States and international governments. “When coming up with safety procedures, we have to serve a lot of different needs, and to do that we try to focus on what all of these groups have in common,” Wright says. He has his work cut out for him.

But Wright is comfortable with taking on challenges. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1970, he went to work for DuPont and spent the next two decades learning everything he could about the business. He spent several years as a process engineer, working a swing shift in one of the factories, and learned exactly how the company worked. He was then promoted to safety engineer and helped open a new Dacron manufacturing plant.

That was where Wright got his first taste of industrial hygiene.

“When I got that position, I didn’t know too much about industrial hygiene,” he admits. “But I spent two years helping build a plant to hold 400 employees and got a lot of safety experience.”

Good work led to recognition in the corporate safety and fire division and in 1978
he was chosen to be an occupational safety health consultant. In 1981, he was again promoted, this time to be manager of safety, health and environmental affairs.

Then, in 1985 he became development programs manager—a position that gave him the experience and the confidence to make a big career move two years later.

“I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but leaving DuPont was the hardest decision I have had to make,” he says. Wright went to work for Environmental Resources Management, a company that grossed $150 million in annual revenue.

In 1987, business was booming in the consulting industry. So much so that in 1991 Wright joined an even larger consulting firm, Roy E Weston Inc., which grossed more than $350 million annually.

But within five years, competition in the consulting business no longer appealed to Wright. He wanted to head back to his industrial roots.

“Consulting was challenging and exciting, but I really enjoy the long-term commitment provided at an industrial setting,” he says. “In this new job I get to use all of my experience and capabilities to create programs, provide more leadership and help the company achieve excellence.”

KEEPING HER PRIORITIES STRAIGHT: Luna Chandna, part-time IH consultant / full-time mom

Her two-month old son, Amit, was sound asleep in his crib, and new mom/industrial hygienist Luna Chandna, 27, was sitting on the floor. She was about to make one of the most important choices of her career.

“I had one more month of maternity leave and knew I just couldn’t leave this baby to go back to work,” says Chandna. “But I thought I should go back to work. After
all, I had a master’s degree, several years of experience, and didn’t want to lose anything I’d worked for.”

But then she looked again at her sleeping infant. She just didn’t know what to do. She needed advice. So she picked up the phone and called her friend and co-worker, Hank Muranko.

“Hank said he couldn’t tell me what to do, but if I chose to put Amit in day care I should double-triple-quadruple check out the person who would care for him.

“Well, that just did it for me right then and there,” says Chandna. “I decided that I have years and years to work and only these short 12 months to watch my son develop his first year. I knew then that leaving my job wasn’t such a big deal.”

Chandna had been working as a safety engineer at the Mesa, Ariz., based TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. She started her
career as an industrial hygienist at Eli Lilly and Co., after graduating in 1991 from the University of Michigan with a M.S. in industrial hygiene. She also has a B.S. in biology from Penn State University.

At Eli Lilly, her accomplishments included re-assessing the departmental respirator policy-which resulted in reduced PPE requirements without compromising worker protection. She also redesigned the existing ventilation system in the company’s bagging operation to properly address airflow characteristics, particle size and density. The result was a $300,000 cost reduction.

Not bad for a young woman finding her way in what traditionally has been a male-dominated business.

“This is mostly a business of men, but like any job in corporate America, to get ahead you have to work conscientiously and make sure people know that you know what you are talking about,” says Chandna. “To be honest, I think men have to do that, too.”

Since she has taken her sabbatical, Chandna has kept her hand in the profession by working as a consultant. Muranko hired her to help with some projects at TRW. She is currently summarizing depositions for legal cases and writing a confined space entry program. She is also looking for another full-time position and is targeting major employers like Motorola, Dial Corp., and Coca-Cola, all headquartered near Phoenix.

“Amit is bigger now,” she says. “And I have found someone to watch him who I feel comfortable with. Besides, something inside my brain says it is time to take the next step.


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