Recognizing Women

March 22, 2024

The Scope

Women Scientists’ Contributions to OEHS

Taking a brief moment to acknowledge Women’s history month and International Women’s Day. There are so many women who have, and continues to, shaped advancements peppered throughout history. Most are never officially recognized for their work or contributions, while some are. As I pay obeisance to the women rockstars in many professions, I most certainly enjoy learning about those rockstars of the sciences and the scientific professions.

No article can comprehensively cover all women, but I’d like to point out a few whom I think have contributed to occupational environmental, health, and safety (OEHS) in some capacity.

For decades chemicals, specifically pesticides and herbicides, have been useful avenues for managing a plethora of situations. Whether it was to solve issues of invasive species killing off or disrupting food crops, or to make life a little better (deodorant anyone!), they have been embedded into our daily lives. Not all chemicals are created equal, and some are more detrimental then others. Rachel Louise Carson (1907 – 1964) was all too aware of the devastation and negative ecological impact dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or DDT had on the environment. Rachel was a marine biologist, writer, and environmental conservationist. She wrote several books tailored towards environmental conservation and got involved with our nation’s pesticide policy, specifically banning DDT.

Although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done with chemicals, chemical management, and the environment; nevertheless all of this involves people and human interactions.

The importance and study of human relations and relationships has been around for decades. When the environmental, health and safety regulations were adopted in the 1970s and 1980s; it was a significant leap forward in our history. After it has been drilled into minds “we have to because we are regulated to”, habits acquainted with such messaging formed. Several decades later, we realize that human psychology and behaviors while at work is a significant role in occupational environmental, health and safety; and the workplace culture developes from it.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878 – 1972) was a scientist within both the industrial/human factors psychology and industrial engineering. She conducted multiple studies to determine the most efficient way for workers to perform tasks, emphasizing on human relations in the workplace. Her work could have been some of the first stepping stones for a term we use today: safety behavior, and we could be building off of what she originally discovered. It is magnificent to learn that she is the first female member inducted into the Society for Industrial Engineers.

Even though human behaviors are important, they only go so far such that there are some things that are just out of their hands. Occupational diseases and illnesses are more prevalent in some industries compared to others. Nevertheless, Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869 – 1970) heard her calling with studying and tailoring her career to occupational health. She is one of the founding members of industrial hygiene as she was a leading expert in the field of occupational health focusing on toxicology, occupational illnesses and the dangerous effects of industrial metals and chemical compounds on the human body. She was the first woman to be appointed the Occupational Diseases Commission of Illinois.

I believe our agriculture industry and our food supply has evolved tremendously! I certainly enjoy scrumptious ice cream, yet have not put much thought into the process of making it and then transporting it to sellers. Mary Engle Pennington (1872 – 1952) was a bacteriological chemist, food scientist, and refrigeration engineer. She focused on areas of preservation, handling, storage and transportation of perishable foods. Mary was the first female lab chief at the US Food and Drug Administration. She devoted an significant amount of time educating farmers on handling of raw milk in order to improve the safety of ice cream sold at local schools. Lastly, she was heavily involved with designing refrigerated boxcars for transporting and storing perishable food.

Today, there is still an insurmountable number of women contributing to the advancements of science. That said, there are many women who contribute in small unnoticbale ways that often do not get recognized or they don’t make it into the history books. These are the women affecting individual lives on a daily basis. Nevertheless, they are extremely important women, too!

There is still much to be done. Together, we can accomplish great things!

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