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What is Industrial Hygiene?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines Industrial hygiene as “that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being or significant discomfort among workers or among the citizens of the community.”  Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls and other methods to control potential health hazards.

OSHA AND INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE

Under the OSH Act, OSHA develops and sets mandatory occupational safety and health requirements applicable to the more than six million workplaces in the U.S. OSHA relies on industrial hygienists to evaluate jobs for potential health hazards. Developing and setting mandatory occupational safety and health standards involves determining the extent of employee exposure to hazards and deciding what is needed to control these hazards to protect workers. Industrial hygienists are trained to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and recommend controls for environmental and physical hazards that can affect the health and well-being of workers.

WORKSITE ANALYSIS

A worksite analysis is an essential first step that helps an industrial hygienist determine what jobs and workstations are the sources of potential problems. During the worksite analysis, the industrial hygienist measures and identifies exposures and risks. The most effective worksite analyses include all jobs, operations and work activities. The industrial hygienist inspects, researches or analyzes how particular chemicals or physical hazards at that worksite affect worker health. If a situation hazardous to health is discovered, the industrial hygienist recommends the appropriate corrective actions.

RECOGNIZING AND CONTROLLING HAZARDS

Industrial hygienists recognize that engineering controls, work practice and administrative controls are the primary means of reducing employee exposure to occupational hazards.

  • Engineering controls minimize employee exposure by either reducing or removing the hazard at the source or isolating the worker from the hazard. Engineering controls include eliminating toxic chemicals and substituting non-toxic chemicals, enclosing work processes or confining work operations and the installation of general and local ventilation systems.
  • Work practice controls alter how a job task is performed. Some fundamental and easily implemented work practice controls include:
    • Changing existing work practices to follow proper procedures that minimize exposures while operating production and control equipment.
    • Inspecting and maintaining process and control equipment on a regular basis.
    • Implementing good housekeeping procedures.
    • Providing good supervision.
    • Mandating that eating, drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco or gum and applying cosmetics in regulated areas be prohibited.
  • Administrative controls include controlling employees’ exposure by scheduling production and tasks, or both, in ways that minimize exposure levels. For example, the employer might schedule operations with the highest exposure potential during periods when the fewest employees are present.
  • When effective work practices or engineering controls are not feasible or while such controls are being instituted, appropriate personal protective equipment must be used. Examples of personal protective equipment are gloves, safety goggles, helmets, safety shoes, protective clothing and respirators. To be effective, personal protective equipment must be individually selected, properly fitted and periodically refitted; conscientiously and properly worn; regularly maintained; and replaced, as necessary.

EXAMPLES OF JOB HAZARDS

To be effective in recognizing and evaluating on-the-job hazards and recommending controls, industrial hygienists must be familiar with the hazard’s characteristics. Potential hazards can include air contaminants, and chemical, biological, physical and ergonomic hazards.

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