Components of Industrial Hygiene: There’s a reason people in the industrial hygiene business have to take classes in physics and chemistry. It’s not just to brush up on their knowledge from high school or to pad their résumés. (Although, come on, if you’re good at industrial hygiene, you should be able to pad your résumé with any number of side gigs.)
No, it’s because the job of an industrial hygienist is all about paying close attention to the details. In fact, industrial hygiene might be one of the most detail-oriented jobs out there. Just think about all the things an industrial hygienist has to monitor: air quality, noise levels, water toxicity, chemical presence; the list goes on and on. In addition to being packed with immense responsibility, this role also demands a lot of time and hard work. And it’s not a job for everyone.
What is Industrial Hygiene?
Industrial hygiene is the study of workplace conditions that may cause employees harm or sickness. It involves anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling hazardous workplace conditions. It is practiced by industrial hygienists (IHs).
IHs have a thorough understanding of occupational safety and health principles and regulations. They apply this knowledge to control or modify hazardous exposures in the workplace.
IHs use their knowledge of physical, chemical, and biological sciences to control workplace exposures that may cause workers’ injury or illness. They collect data to identify and evaluate hazardous exposures, develop strategies to prevent or reduce these exposures and work with employers and employees to implement these strategies.
What are the Components?
There are four main components of industrial hygiene that, when considered together, will give the industrial hygienist a complete picture of what is happening in the workplace and how best to protect workers.
- Air Quality
- Noise Levels
- Water Toxicity
- Hazardous Materials Handling
Each of these components is significant in its own right, and each presents its challenges. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
The air quality in the workplace is essential for two reasons: to protect workers from exposure to harmful airborne contaminants and to maintain a comfortable working environment.
There are many sources of airborne contaminants in the workplace, including specks of dust, fumes, mists, vapors, and gases. These contaminants can come from processes or activities such as welding, grinding, spraying, and handling hazardous materials.
Workers can be exposed to airborne contaminants in two ways: inhalation and dermal absorption. Inhalation is the prevalent route of exposure, and it can occur when workers breathe in contaminated air. Dermal absorption occurs when contaminants come into contact with the skin or eyes.
Noise is any unwanted sound that disrupts the standard patterns of communication. It can be constant or intermittent, and it can come from various sources, including machinery, tools, and equipment.
Noise exposure can cause health effects, including hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and stress. It can also interfere with communication and concentration, leading to accidents and errors.
By studying the noise levels in the workplace, industrial hygienists can identify sources of noise and potential exposure hazards. They can also develop strategies to reduce or eliminate noise exposure.
Water toxicity is a concern in any workplace where there is potential for exposure to contaminated water. It can occur through contact with surface water, groundwater, or drinking water.
Contaminated water can contain various harmful contaminants, including bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. Exposure to these contaminants can cause several health effects, ranging from minor skin irritation to severe illnesses, such as hepatitis and cholera.
Industrial hygienists can help prevent exposure to contaminated water by identifying potential sources of contamination and developing controls to eliminate or reduce exposure.
Hazardous Materials Handling
Many workplaces use or produce hazardous materials, such as chemicals, cleaners, and solvents. These materials can pose various health hazards, including skin and eye irritation, respiratory problems, and cancer.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard, employers must provide workers with information about the hazards of the chemicals they are exposed to.
Industrial hygienists can help employers comply with this standard by conducting hazard evaluations and developing controls to reduce or eliminate exposure to hazardous materials.
Understanding the Science:
As the field of industrial hygiene evolves, so do the methods and techniques used to control exposure to hazards. New technologies and processes are constantly being developed to better identify and prevent exposure to hazards.
However, the process still falls on the five pillars of anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control, and exposure assessment. By understanding these pillars, we can better protect ourselves in any environment.
Anticipation – It is the proactive identification of hazards in the workplace. It includes both hazard recognition and assessment. Tools and software like the Hazard Evaluation and Control Tool (HECT) can be used for this purpose.
Recognition – It is the ability to identify a hazard when you see it. It can be done by looking for sure signs, such as an unusual noise or smell. It can also be done by knowing the potential hazards in a particular workplace.
Evaluation – The process of assessing the risks posed by a hazard. It includes considering the severity of the danger and the likelihood of exposure.
Control – The implementation of measures to eliminate or minimize exposure—includes both engineering controls, such as ventilation, and administrative controls, such as work practices.
Exposure Assessment – The process of measuring exposure to a hazard. It includes personal monitoring, air sampling, and area monitoring, such as noise measurements.
The Scope of Industrial Hygiene:
We all know, the time when there will be no hazards, whether physical, chemical, or biological, in the work environment is still a long way off. In the meantime, we have to use our knowledge of industrial hygiene to protect workers from exposure to hazards.
Industrial hygienists are open to working in different fields from manufacturing to health care, food processing, and the semiconductor industry. They work in diverse industries and are often involved in interdisciplinary teamwork projects.
The scope of industrial hygiene has been expanding as more and more industries recognize the importance of protecting workers from exposure to hazards.
Who knew there were so many things to worry about when it comes to work? Like most people, you may have probably answered: “not me.” But in reality, there are all sorts of dangers lurking in every workplace, just waiting to make you sick. That’s where industrial hygienists come in. These professionals are trained to identify and control exposure to hazards in the workplace. By understanding industrial hygiene science, we can all do our part to keep ourselves safe at work.