IHMM Today

IHMM Spotlight Interview with Ms. Linda H. Lawhorn, CHMM, CDGP

Linda Lawhorn
Linda Lawhorn, CHMM, CDGP

In this winter issue of IHMM Today, we will be featuring Ms. Linda H. Lawhorn, who specializes in the transportation of hazardous materials and hazardous waste by highway and air. She earned a M.S. degree in Safety Education and Services and a B.S. degree in Finance from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Ms. Lawhorn has twenty-five years of experience in the environmental field with twenty-one years of concentrated experience in hazardous materials transportation, training, and auditing. She has been a virtual “hazmat hotline,” providing expertise to both internal and external clients in the areas of hazardous materials/waste management, hazardous materials/waste transportation, and radioactive materials/waste transportation. Ms. Lawhorn routinely authors and provides customized shipping training to clients in a variety of environmental, retail, manufacturing, and government research facilities. She has performed audits of transportation and hazardous waste management programs at retail, manufacturing, and research facilities.

IHMM: How did you begin your career and what motivated you to pursue your career in this field? 

[Linda Lawhorn] When I finished my Master’s in Safety Education and Services, I transferred into my environmental company’s treatability study and biotechnology laboratories as assistant to the Environmental Compliance Coordinator. When she left shortly thereafter, I had to quickly learn it all, not just the shipping portion that I had barely begun to grasp. I was motivated by a desire to do my job well, and by an even stronger desire not to be the next “don’t-ever-do-this” incident with the regulators.

IHMM: How did you hear about the CHMM and CDGP certifications?

[Linda Lawhorn] I was surrounded with Ph.D. chemists, professional geologists and professional engineers, and I didn’t have any “street cred” with them at all because my undergraduate degree was in Finance and my graduate work was Safety, not a technical field at all (in their eyes). I needed a boost, and my research indicated that the CHMM credential was the very best one for me. That was nearly twenty years ago. Since that time, the CDGP credential became available and I decided to rely on my years of experience during the ensuing period to see if I could achieve that one too. IHMM was looking for beta testers and I volunteered (and passed). 

IHMM: What value does obtaining a dual certification as a CHMM and as a CDGP hold for you?

[Linda Lawhorn] It depends on the audience. To a potential client or employer, I have demonstrated a verified level of expertise in the subject matter that may set me apart from other candidates for selection. To colleagues, it may mean that I can be depended upon as a resource when a problem arises. In both cases, the credentials are recognized as valuable and meaningful, not just window-dressing.

IHMM: What types of skills or training are required for a Dangerous Goods Professional as opposed to a Certified Hazardous Materials Professional?

[Linda Lawhorn] While the CHMM credential requires a depth of knowledge in a number of EHS&S areas, the CDGP credential requires specific knowledge of dangerous goods transport that is beyond mere familiarity or the ability to remember which CFR to pick up.  The required texts differ in structure from our domestic regulations, so the examinee needs to have firsthand experience moving within and between these international texts.  In addition, the state and operator variances are keys to successfully transporting dangerous goods across borders with the fewest surprises, so awareness of international requirements and carrier peculiarities is important.

IHMM: What is a typical work day like for a Dangerous Goods Professional? 

[Linda Lawhorn]Very stressful on a day when a coworker drops by your office at 4 P.M. with an unexpected dangerous goods package that has to arrive at its destination by 9 A.M. the next day.  A less stressful day involves preparation of a package that has been planned, from its classification to its packaging, allowing ample time to engage in initial research and peer review before shipment.

IHMM:  Do you provide mentoring in the field of hazardous materials and dangerous goods, if so, how?

[Linda Lawhorn] I participate in a mentoring program for high school students in my county to make sure they enter college.  I use this opportunity to talk about my career and how I ended up doing the work I do and earning my credentials.

IHMM: What are some current examples of cutting-edge hazmat transportation technologies that have had the most impact on hazardous materials transportation?

[Linda Lawhorn] There are a number of software applications to assist shippers in identifying applicable requirements. The most important thing to remember about these is that the shipper is ultimately responsible for knowing the regulations and making a compliant shipment. Software is a tool of convenience, not a substitute for knowledge.  

IHMM: Can you share a few best practices in the transportation of hazardous materials/dangerous goods by road, railroad, sea or air?

[Linda Lawhorn] 1. Use the definition sections of your regulations – terminology means everything!  2. Don’t neglect the “Symbols” or “Special Provisions” columns of the Big Tables – there is liability-limiting information there.  3. Check yourself for compliance with the most frequently cited violations:  training, registration, and emergency response information and telephone number.  4. Closure instructions – follow them to the letter every time. 

IHMM:  As President of theEast Tennessee Chapter - Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals, what are your goals for fostering the professional development of its members and increasing the recognition of the CHMM and CDGP credentials?

[Linda Lawhorn] The East Tennessee chapter is very active in the Knoxville and Oak Ridge communities. Because of our reputation as knowledgeable and dependable hazmat professionals, we are able to arrange interesting tours of facilities where tomorrow’s technologies are being developed right now, and we are able to attract speakers on a wide range of pertinent EHS&S topics. Both of these activities contribute to the continued growth and development of our membership, all of whom are CHMMs. We advertise our credential regularly at events like the U.S. Department of Energy Science Bowl, Y-12 SafetyFest, Anderson County Household Hazardous Waste Roundup, TDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway Program, TDEC Show of the South, and our own presentation of the “Essentials of Hazardous Materials Management” course twice each year. Our most recent Essentials class hosted three Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation employees, an audience we’ve been trying to recruit for years, because we feel it is important for the industry that our regulators both value, and earn, the CHMM credential.

IHMM: What sort of opportunity would this profession offer returning veterans?

[Linda Lawhorn] Veterans with experience in logistics for movement of large quantities of equipment and materials, including hazardous materials, or in chemical or mechanical deactivation of materials or devices containing hazmat are well suited for hazmat and hazwaste work in private industry.    

IHMM: If you are speaking to a group of college students, what would you say about your profession?

[Linda Lawhorn] I would say that I have found my work to be supremely satisfying and financially reliable. I’ve been able to work in places where new treatment methods were being developed, and also in places of historic significance, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. 

IHMM:  How do you expect the field of hazardous materials and environmental, health and safety to change over the next 5 to 10 years?

[Linda Lawhorn] I expect environmental work to begin to shift away from cleaning up yesterday’s environmental mistakes and grow toward better management practices from an activity’s outset to limit or avoid environmental impact.

Ms. Lawhorn currently works at the Edgewater Technical Associates as a Senior Transportation Specialist and is deployed at the former uranium enrichment plant now known as ETTP to ship radioactive waste generated during the demolition of contaminated historical structures. 

Interview conducted by M. Patricia Buley, Senior Manager, Credentials at [email protected].