When people think of industrial hygiene, the image that often comes to mind is basic janitorial duties to keep things visibly clean or perhaps encouraging employees to practice personal hygiene effectively. This is not the case! In fact, industrial hygiene is much more complicated than simply washing hands and making sure your teeth are brushed twice a day. According to OSHA industrial hygiene is defined as, “the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers' injury or illness.” Those in the field of industrial hygiene often refer to the job as occupational hygiene instead to lessen confusion on the true nature of the job and emphasize the importance of hazard identification and prevention.
Industrial hygiene covers several types of hazards that may pose risks to employee health throughout the workplace. Those hazards are not limited to just chemical, biological, ergonomic, and air quality issues. In fact, the risks continue to branch out to encompass long term health concerns that may stem from those four health threats. To rid a company of these threats to the health and safety of employees, industrial hygienists are called in for input by means of either hiring one onto the workforce or hiring one out of another company that provides inspection services.
Industrial hygiene is incredibly important for companywide success. By collaborating with an industrial hygienist, you will improve your business’s outlook on eliminating hazards and more importantly, have a healthy and happy workforce.
Why is Industrial Hygiene (IH) important?
It has been estimated that 2.78 million people die annually around the globe from occupational accidents and illnesses and an additional 374 million workers suffer from non-fatal accidents. These are staggering numbers as any amount of loss is too much. If the number of deaths and injuries continues to rise, as they have over the last twenty years, so will the need for working with industrial hygienists.
Companies that implement a rigorous industrial hygiene program will benefit from:
- Improved worker health
- Less absences due to injuries or illnesses
- Increase worker productivity and potential
- More efficient processes and improved technology
- Less employee healthcare costs
Industrial hygiene absolutely cannot be done alone because both parties must work together to create change, not just the hygienist themselves. A company receiving help will only benefit if the advice given is taken seriously and implemented to become the new normal. With that being said, the core goal of occupational hygiene is to keep everyone as safe as possible and to have them lead happy and healthy lives even after they leave the company–it begins with teamwork.
What does an Industrial Hygienist do?
As mentioned before, industrial hygienists are charged with anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace hazards. These broad topics filter into common roles such as the following:
- Identifying workplace hazards
- Recommending solutions to improve safety for employees and people of the community
- Performing research to provide scientific findings on potential hazardous situations in the workplace
- Creating plans for anticipating and subsequently controlling dangerous situations within the workplace and the surrounding community
- Educating the working community about their specific job-related risk factors
- Participating in advising government officials in regard to developing new regulations if the need arises for needing to amend health and safety regulations currently in place
- Industrial hygienists must ensure that employees are following health and safety procedures
After identifying existing hazards and conduct needed research, industrial hygienists utilize the hierarchy of controls pyramid to brainstorm and provide solutions for mitigating or eliminating hazards entirely from an area. The goal of this is to remedy the issue at its source, which oftentimes are flaws within the process or production materials problematically being the hazards themselves.
The first of these control methods are engineering controls. Control methods in this category pertain to modifying the equipment whether that be confining or enclosing the equipment, replacing toxic chemicals with less harmful ones, or even improving the ventilation system. Engineering controls work to eliminate hazards directly from the source of the problem, which is why this control must be considered first.
The next hazard control method that should be looked into are work practice controls. This control method changes the way a task is performed by an employee to make it safer. This type of control can include any of the following:
- Changing the procedure to minimize exposure to the hazard
- Performing regular inspections to ensure everything is in proper working order
- Implementing good housekeeping procedures like those of any Lean manufacturing techniques
- Providing supervision
- Making requirements explicit in regulating where eating drinking, smoking, etc. is allowed
Administrative controls work to improve scheduling mostly. By scheduling tasks for employees that aim to minimize exposure to work hazards, they will minimize injury within their workforce. This can be done by having people change areas regularly or even establishing better shifts by keeping exposure time in mind.
Lastly, personal protective equipment is the final measure that employers may take in preventing employee injury or death. PPE is supposed to be the last defense from hazards that were unable to be reasonably eliminated or mitigated to the point of permissible exposure limits. PPE can include anything from safety goggles to full on hazmat suits for chemical or even biological hazards.
The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) are both non-profit groups that focus on providing information to the public and industry regarding safety through industrial hygiene. However, the ABIH focuses on maintaining certificate holder records as well as providing the assessment for aspiring industrial hygienists seeking to become certified. The AIHA focuses on providing educational resources for members that connect with industry leaders and the general public. Both organizations are instrumental in the success of industrial hygiene programs in companies across the nation.
Becoming a certified industrial hygienist means an individual has proven their capability in meeting the minimum requirements needed in education and experience for participating in the industrial hygienist field professionally. This certification, also known as a CIH, proves that the individual has sufficient knowledge regarding the following subject areas according to the ABIH:
- Air Sampling & Instrumentation
- Analytical Chemistry
- Basic Science
- Biostatistics & Epidemiology
- Community Exposure
- Engineering Controls/Ventilation
- Health Risk Analysis & Hazard Communication
- IH Program Management
- Non-Engineering Controls
- Radiation – Ionizing and Non-ionizing
- Thermal Stressors
- Work Environments & Industrial Processes
Certification is a three-step process that involves determining the candidate’s eligibility, preparation, and examination. The candidate shall have their professional level determined by completing a Professional Reference Questionnaire first. Once that is completed, the individual trying to obtain the certification must prepare for the exam. This can be done several different ways, whether it be via online review courses, reviewing old material from college courses, or going over recent experience in the field. Once ready, the candidate must take a computer-based exam at one of the 425 testing sites around the world.
Creating an IH Program
Creating a successful IH program always begins with a risk analysis that leads to the use of the hierarchy of controls as a mitigation or elimination technique for identified hazards. Another helpful tool to use when trying to identify hazards for other sections of the facility is a similar exposure group. SEGs can take a qualitative or quantitative approach to identifying other hazards that may put people working in similar conditions at risk.
Sampling comes next in the grand scheme of creating an IH program. Making sure the permissible exposure limit, recommended exposure limit, and the threshold limit value are acceptable takes a big part in making sure proper industrial hygiene is being implemented in the facility. Short term limits that are high risk are also something to look for. Those are the OSHA short-term exposure limit, the lower explosive limit, and immediately dangerous to life and health. All six risk factors may exist in the workplace and must be accounted for.
Communicating the results of sample tests is essential in an IH program. The employees have a right to know the dangers that they are facing during a normal workday, not to mention it is required by OSHA. Once that information surfaces, the employer must make plans for any changes that are needed in case recorded data is exceeding the recommended exposure limits.
Key Components of an Industrial Hygiene Program
Being able to implement a successful industrial hygiene program means the person in charge must consider the following key components that are often found to be problematic in work environments:
- Chemical, radiation, and biological hazards
- Indoor air quality
- Noise hazards
- Temperature hazards
The elimination or controlling of identified hazards, such as the ones above, is the end goal in any industrial hygiene program. If given the proper tools, then industrial hygienists and employers can successfully work together to improve conditions for the company’s employees.
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