What Do We Do?

— a look at the incredibly diverse field of risk analysis —

Julia Diebol

What is your job title?

I’m a managing consultant in the Human Factors and Product Safety Group at Applied Safety and Ergonomics, Inc., in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our company provides consulting services in product and occupational safety, including design and evaluation of warnings, instructions, and risk communications. I am also a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, researching satisfaction with hazard and exposure communications received in a community setting.

How is risk analysis a part of your job?

My work has to do with developing and evaluating risk communications in consumer, occupational, and community settings. I draw on the large body of research about risk assessment, risk policy, and risk communication that has developed over the last century and continues to develop today. I also research standards and regulations from various governmental and non-governmental sources that guide and mandate risk communication in a variety of contexts.

How did you decide to pursue this career?

As an undergraduate in industrial and operations engineering, I became interested in human factors, ergonomics, and safety. When I started at Applied Safety and Ergonomics in 2005, I worked on some fascinating projects that involved researching the history of industrial hygiene, chemical hazard communication, and risk communication about chemicals more broadly. In 2007 I decided to pursue part-time graduate studies in this area, eventually leading to a PhD program in 2009.

What got you to where you are in the field of risk analysis today?

I would not be where I am today without mentoring from a host of other talented people, including colleagues at my company, faculty at the university, and others during my undergraduate and graduate studies. Involvement with the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, including a Risk Science Center Summer Fellowship in 2011, has also helped guide my research and my career.

What is the most interesting/exciting part of your job?

I love the variety in consulting, especially being able to see similarities and differences between risk communications in different contexts. Most exciting is to see how risk communication changes over time: to compare different standards and norms for risk communication historically and today and to see how things will change in the future. This is a field that is still growing and, I think, becoming increasingly important as we face the challenges of the 21st century.

What would you recommend to those entering the field of risk analysis interested in a job like yours?

Risk communication is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on work in the fields of public health, psychology, public policy, information science, engineering, and many others. Be open to beginning to explore this topic from whichever perspective most excites you.

How have you been involved in the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) and what led you to join?

I’ve been a member of SRA since 2011, when I presented my research at the annual meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. I am looking forward to presenting some additional work at this year’s annual meeting in San Francisco, California.

How has your involvement in SRA helped you in your work?

Meeting other people involved in SRA has been a great way to see firsthand the broad spectrum of risk-related research areas and to identify gaps and potential areas for interdisciplinary research. It’s also been a great way to see how people with different perspectives view risk-related challenges and solutions.

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy photography and hiking with my husband Steve, vegetable gardening, and playing kickball and soccer with our company team, the Safety Monkeys.

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