An Interview with Donna Heidel
BY ED RUTKOWSKI
In 2010, The Synergist conducted the latest of its tri-annual
reader surveys. Among the responses were several calls for articles about management topics.
In response to this feedback, I’m pleased to introduce the first
installment of The Synergist Leadership Series, which will present
interviews with experienced managers. This month, we feature
the insights of AIHA® Fellow Donna Heidel, CIH, who coordinates the Prevention through Design program at NIOSH. Heidel
previously spent 20 years in industry with Johnson & Johnson
and Merck. She serves on the ANSI/AIHA Z10 committee, which
produced the American National Standard for Health and Safety
What was your first job coming out of college?
I was an industrial hygienist at Merck, and my role was to support Merck Research Laboratories by conducting basic industrial hygiene sampling, ventilation system testing, and noise
monitoring. I had responsibilities for managing the vendor
MSDS inventory, and I gained experience with hazard and operability studies (HAZOPs). The late 1980s and early ’90s were
an exciting time to be an IH in the pharmaceutical industry because we were building the first control banding programs for
controlling exposures to new, high-potency drugs.
How long were you in that position before you moved up
Three years later, I moved to Johnson & Johnson. My first
position at J&J was to lead the safety and industrial hygiene
programs at a small research facility. Later, I assumed global
technical leadership for the J&J pharmaceutical industrial hygiene program and was relocated to Italy. From there, I supported the IH programs at the J&J facilities in Europe, the
Middle East, and Africa. Upon returning to the U.S., I was
promoted to global director of industrial hygiene.
What was your biggest challenge when you first became
My biggest challenge was to move away from doing to planning and organizing. I needed to stop being overwhelmed by
day-to-day activities and actually develop an IH process and
the associated programs and operating procedures that would
lead us to better IH performance. My first success was to facilitate the development of new, high-potency drugs using principles of control banding that I learned at Merck. The scientists
were happy because I was able to partner with them to safely
scale-up production of these new drugs, and I was happy because the scientists took ownership for including OHS in the
design of the process and selection of equipment to produce
these new drugs. This early success opened the door for me to
support more complex IH challenges such as participating on
merger and acquisition teams, selecting third-party manufacturers, contributing to product stewardship, and providing capital project support.
What advice would you give to industrial hygienists or
OEHS professionals who are just now moving into their
first management position?
The best advice I can give is to look for opportunities to “
design in” industrial hygiene by controlling worker exposures to
hazards up front, during the design of new products, processes,
and facilities, rather than dealing with the consequences later.
We call this approach Prevention through Design. This can best
be accomplished by identifying opportunities to integrate
workplace health and safety into your organization’s business
processes. So when a new product is developed or a new facility is planned, the hazards are identified, and the potential
risks are assessed and minimized, during the design stages
rather than during product launch or building commissioning
Identifying a senior business leader as a mentor can help
new IHs learn how business goals are accomplished in their
organization. By understanding your organization’s process
for achieving business goals, you’ll be able to determine the
best approaches to get safety and IH done in your organization.
We’ve learned that companies that are leaders in safety performance include OHS into their product lifecycle management
and their project development process. If we can design-out the
hazards and minimize risks early on, the health and safety professional can focus on improving safety performance rather
than attempting to control risks using lower-level controls.
Do you have any suggestions for how to “sell” the value
of industrial hygiene to upper management?
AIHA has taken a leadership role in selling the value of industrial hygiene with the AIHA Value Strategy. Industrial hygienists are very skilled at identifying the worker health and IH
management impacts of our interventions, but we underestimate the business impacts. The work AIHA is doing to educate