My Path to Product Stewardship: Kathleen Murphy
My career started not-at-all related to product stewardship. I started as an industrial hygienist, worked for OSHA as a compliance officer, did private consulting and worked in heavy manufacturing.
I joined an organization called AES, which was later fully acquired by ExxonMobil. At AES, I was responsible for industrial hygiene and environmental health and safety. Then I was asked to take over the product stewardship organization, in recognition that many of the skill sets are the same.
I knew it was going to be different but I also had the advantage that they were asking me to take over for someone who was retiring. That gave me several months to work side-by-side and understand what I needed to learn.
That was the first time I had product stewardship as a responsibility. As an industrial hygienist, I relied on toxicology studies or physical studies in order to select control methods and personal protection equipment to protect employees. That’s probably the first point of entry in developing that kind of information for most industrial hygienists.
Now I was thinking about customers and populations that are not workers. For the most part, we were taking other people’s raw materials and creating a new product. It meant compiling the information that was available for all the raw materials that we used and then working with our development chemists and others when we created something brand new to assess whether we had to develop additional toxicology.
I was on a steep learning curve and needed to talk to very different people than I had as an industrial hygienist. I spent a lot more time with sales and marketing, to know what we were selling and how it would be used, what the potential exposures would be and what kinds of warranties we needed to develop. I also became much more embedded in product development.
Depending on what kind of business you’re in, product stewardship looks very different. As you move from industry to industry, the types of regulations that apply are very different. One characteristic I see in good product stewards is that they’re inquisitive. You have to be. You can’t make assumptions. And you have to like engaging with people.