Environmental and Occupational Health Department Chair Nola Kennedy received word this week that she has been appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. Among her accomplishments, the governor’s announcement cited her professionalism and history of commitment to safe working conditions for workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, also known simply as "the Standards Board" sets the standards for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and deals with legislation of health orders for the state. The board also maintains standards for some areas that are not covered at the federal levels. More from California Industrial Relations.
Kennedy said her concern about the ways working conditions affect health goes back to her childhood. "I grew up in Concord, North Carolina. My grandfather worked in the shipyards of Virginia and developed asbestosis, a direct result of breathing asbestos. The presence of the airborne fibers was not regulated in the mid-20th century, though its toxicity was recognized as early as a hundred years ago. There is a long history of environmental health specialists attempting to protect the health of workers with regard to asbestos. Asbestosis as an illness was acknowledged as early as the 1930s, but meaningful regulations would not become standard until well into the 1970s."
Of course, as a child, Kennedy hadn't yet learned of the struggles for legislation to protect workers. But as a teen, the health issues she witnessed continued to draw her attention. "Concord was a cotton mill town, and I became aware that some of my relatives who had spent years working in the mills had developed byssinosis, also known as 'brown lung disease', and that it was a common respiratory illness among cotton mill workers."
As an undergrad, she said she liked studying the sciences, and considered medical school, but as she found her way through her education she determined that while she didn't want to be a physician, she did want to help people stay well, and she saw Environmental and Occupational Health as a way to do it.
Kennedy said that serving on the board is not only an honor, but is a responsibility she is eager to embrace and looks forward to being part of the rule-making process and helping to develop standards of safety for workers' well-being.
"For the past eight years I have been active with the California Industrial Hygiene Council, a professional organization that tracks legislation related to occupational and environmental issues. I have a strong interest in the intersection of science and policy, and I enjoy volunteering, so this is a next logical step," Kennedy said. "Through this service I can help move worker health protections forward."
Kennedy added that she is also excited to share this experience with her students because it creates a good opportunity for them to discover ways they really can have an impact. “Some board meetings take place in Sacramento, but some will take place locally, and I will encourage them to attend and get involved in civics in any ways they can. I tell them to go to their local Chamber of Commerce meetings, too. I want them to take advantage of any opportunity to see policy being made."
She will also tell her students about the importance of asking for the support of professional colleagues who knew the strength of her background and her passion for the field, "I sought out help from colleagues and got letters of support to submit with my application for the post," she said. "When I interviewed with Juliann Sum, the Chief of Cal/OSHA at California Department of Industrial Relations, she knew about my work, and she also knew something about me from a perspective beyond my own."