Sharon Beard, Acting Chief of the NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) has received the 2021 Rachel Carson Award from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).
The honor is conferred in recognition of the recipient’s outstanding work in environmental and industrial health and safety. Rachel Carson authored the 1962 book “Silent Spring,” widely credited for launching the modern environmental movement.
“It is nice that my expertise was considered worthy of this award, but it is really a testament to the great work of the WTP over the years,” said Beard. “We had complete support of everyone at NIEHS in addressing occupational health and safety disparities and working with marginalized and environmental justice communities.”
NIEHS Acting Deputy Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., said, “It is fabulous to see Sharon recognized by her peers for her hard work and dedication to the field of occupational health and the WTP.”
Noteworthy history with WTP
This is the 16th Rachel Carson Award from the AIHA Environmental Issues Committee. Beard was nominated by John Pierce, M.D., Ph.D., an AIHA fellow, and is the first NIEHS employee to receive the honor. Beard and Pierce were colleagues in the private sector before Beard came to NIEHS in 1995, and Pierce received the same award in 2012.
“Sharon is highly regarded and recognized by her peers for her leadership, vision, and role in elevating the profession, and AIHA is proud to have her as a member,” wrote AIHA CEO Lawrence Sloan in his announcement letter.
Beard is an industrial hygienist who became acting chief of WTP after longtime branch head Joseph “Chip” Hughes left to become the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Pandemic and Emergency Response in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Beard has worked in the program for more than 25 years, and she heads the Environmental Career Worker Training Program (ECWTP; see first sidebar). In 2013, Beard won the Lorin Kerr Award from the American Public Health Association Occupational Health and Safety Section for her leadership of ECWTP.
Helping underserved communities
“We connected community-based organizations with folks who do health and safety training and apprenticeship programs with people from underserved communities, to bring them into environmental careers and jobs,” explained Beard.
Through universities, unions, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations, WTP supports development and delivery of safety and health training programs for workers involved in hazardous waste cleanup and emergency response.
“The worker training program and her role in organizing it were outstanding,” said Pierce. “I was pleased that Sharon received the honor. It is well deserved.”
New role as acting director
As WTP acting director, Beard oversees the COVID-19 recovery centers that will assess COVID-19 health risks, train essential workers, and coordinate resources to reduce disease transmission and promote recovery in disadvantaged communities. AIHA has played a role in that mission, too (see second sidebar).
(John Yewell is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)