2020. It is a complete sentence.
I took some time off from the Curly IH blog last year. I did not lose interest in how Industrial Hygiene shows up in everyday life, but my creative energy took a different direction.
In May, I ran for Ahmaud Arbery. You see, one day, I plan to be a mother to a black boy. My heart hurt for the fear that I may face for my son to just simply live.
Also, in May, I saw George Floyd call for his mother. I saw my brothers, uncles, and nephews as his life drifted away.
Lastly, in May, I saw the first picture of Breonna Taylor float across my timeline. She was from the same city I trotted through as a teenager. One of my high school friends lived in the same complex she was killed in.
In June, I went to a protest. I did not look for the theme of the protest, but I knew that someone marched for me to have my liberties and I owed the future of this country my presence. It happened to be a protest to protect black women. Women like me.
Also, in June, a black female engineer talked about her reservations on returning to work. She said “People like me are dying”. That sparked the change in direction for me.
The Centers for Disease Control had just released statistics that black patients in Atlanta with COVID-19 were more likely to be hospitalized than white patients. A marker for the severity of the virus. I live in Atlanta.
As the outrage of these murders permeated the world, many were trying to figure out how we could be of service to correct the path of racial disparities. My passion for Industrial Hygiene found an intersect to protect populations that were more vulnerable. Those populations included me, my family, my friends. They were also the same people dying at disproportionate rates due to the virus.
I redirected my energy to write a guidance document titled The Lens of the Minority in the Workplace During COVID-19 with my colleagues for Industrial Hygienists to protect the most vulnerable populations. The fact is these are people that have been systematically oppressed for generations.
Even though the facts are documented well by the Centers for Disease Control, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, there are still some that do not agree.
Some of the opposition exists in my own profession. This can be summed into the biases that exists in all of us to some capacity. As we expand our lenses, we can uncover the fact that we cannot protect everyone the same.
My second favorite place in this world to live is Southern California. When I saw the stats in Orange County, that Latinos account for 47% of coronavirus cases and 45% of COVID-19 deaths, despite comprising 35% of the population, I was not surprised. Most of the deaths were faced by Latinos operating as essential workers. My passion for Industrial Hygiene and protecting people at higher risk continued to intersect. Systematic disparities continued to rear its evidence.
In 2020, the everyday impact of Industrial Hygiene showed up globally, even on major news networks. We continued to protect workers in their daily activities while layering on building ventilation, proper respiratory protection for large populations, crafting return to work procedures, and so much more. This is such an incredible recognition for the work IH’s do daily.
For me, I entered 2021 as a different Industrial Hygienist than I was before. I have grown. I have a deeper connection to people. I have more non-negotiable values. My voice has become bigger. My assessment of risk in the workplace has more emphasis on the total worker, like factors other than their employee ID number that could show up to work, or how they go home. I am even more grateful to have this amazing profession.
You may have seen “Say her name” somewhere along 2020’s journey. This resonated with me. Each person that is statistically calculated as a rate (COVID-19 death rate, workplace injury rate, fatality rate, etc.) is a person. They are working to provide a living for themselves, their families, for a better life, and sometimes just make ends meet.
I encourage you to read and implement the guidance document in your workplaces where it may apply.
“We cannot close our eyes or put up blinders to the disproportionate impact of this disease on racial and ethnic minority communities.” Stephen Thompson, University of Maryland School of Public Health
I would like to share a special thank you to my colleagues that made the publication happen. You are the real MVP’s:
Jennifer M.T. Hsu, MPH, CSP;
Ivory Iheanacho, MSPH, CIH
Crystal Brown, CIH, CSP
John Moore III, CIH, CSP
Kerry-Ann Jaggassar, CIH
Enjoli DeGrasse, MSPH, CIH
Aileen Yankowski, MPH, CIH