What is Occupational (Industrial) Hygiene?

According to Wikipedia it is generally defined as the art and science dedicated to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, communication and control of environmental hazards / stressors in, or arising from, the workplace that may result in injury, illness, impairment, or affect the well being of workers and members of the community. These hazards / stressors are divided into categories: biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic and psychosocial.

Occupational / Industrial Hygiene focus essentially on a preventative approach through the minimisation of exposure to biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic and psychosocial agents in the work environment and the adoption of good ergonomic practises.

Why is Occupational / Industrial Hygiene necessary?

Increasing industrial activities means there are more people exposed worldwide and new technological advancements means that new hazards are being introduced into the workplace.

The relative importance of occupational hygiene can be illustrated by comparing statistics about incidence of accidents with that of ill health. In the UK the number of deaths due to work related activities is approximately 250. This may be compared to the number of deaths due to road to traffic accidents which is approximately 2500. However, the number of deaths each year due to work related cancer and respiratory disease is estimated at 12 000. This gives a ratio of 1:10:48.

Is there a difference between Occupational and Industrial Hygiene?

No, the reason for the different use of terminology is simply because “industrial hygiene” traditionally stems from industries with construction, mining, or manufacturing while “occupational hygiene” refers to all industry such as those listed for “industrial hygiene” as issues affecting the local community, boarder society, region or country.

What is Occupational / Industrial Hygiene Monitoring?

The process that involves evaluating and documenting the employees workplace potential exposures to biological, chemical and physical hazards.

This monitoring can be:

  • Qualitative meaning that smaller but focused samples are used. Observing the operation and the employee and noting the potential hazards. Collecting all the potential hazards through the observation the severity and probability of negative outcome is estimated, then it will be determined if further evaluation is necessary.
  • Semi-quantitative meaning that assessments involve mathematical models to predict the exposure. This will also determine if it is necessary to have quantitative monitoring.
  • Quantitative meaning that an assessment will be done in a laboratory where the exposure will be tested as if the employee were in the normal work shift.

What will an Occupational / Industrial Hygiene Management System offer you?

Identification and effective control of workplace hazards / stressors will provide maximum benefit to both the worker and the employer.

This is where an effective management system will provide structure to help ensure worker health protection, and simultaneously integrates workplace safety and health into all aspects of an organization.

With an Occupational / Industrial Hygiene management system that understands the business strategies, organisational structures, accountabilities, etc.  The management system will defiantly make the work of the Occupational / Industrial Hygienist more effective. The integration of the management system will also facilitate the development of approaches that maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling workplace hazards / stressors.

The system will keep personal occupational health data protected, but the correct people will be informed which employees are at risk.

Assessment of Health Risks

A workplace assessment will be done primary for assessing the risk(s) to the health of employees. When a situation is indicated there will be additional requirements:

  • To specify steps to  achieve adequate control.
  • To identify any other action that is required.

What is the difference between a hazard / stressor and a risk?

  • A hazard / stressor is something that can cause harm if not controlled.
  • A risk is a combination of  the probability that a particular outcome will occur and the severity of      the harm involved.

Biological Monitoring and Health Surveillance

Any procedure undertaken to assess, review or monitor an individual’s health in order to identify or detect any significant change from normality. Three reasons why health surveillance will be done at work:

  • to ensure adverse health effects related to the work are  identified at an early stage; sometimes this is statutory,
  • to ensure continued medical fitness for specific tasks like diving for fire fighting,
  • to promote general health.

Whether to undertake health surveillance depends on the findings of a health risk assessment and it should only take place when exposure could result in an adverse health effect or disease and where there are valid techniques for detecting the effect or disease.

Hygiene Standards and Occupational / Industrial Exposure Limits

Most of the chemical and physical agents found in industry today are potentially harmful if they are not handled correctly or are present in excessive quantities in the workplace environment. The aim of occupational / industrial hygiene is to prevent or reduce exposure to such agents.

Hygiene standards or occupational exposure limits (OELs) are useful measures with which exposures to chemical and physical agents in the workplace environment can be compared.

A few key points to remember about hygiene standards, namely:

  • They are not an index of  toxicity.
  • They do not represent a fine demarcation between good and bad practise.
  • They are based on the current best available information and are liable to change.
  • If there is not a hygiene standard set for a chemical substance, it does not mean that the substance is safe.
  • Good occupational / industrial hygiene practice is to keep airborne contaminants to as low a level as possible, not to just below the relevant hygiene standard(s).
  • They apply to occupational exposure of adults. They are not applicable to environmental exposure where more susceptible groups exists e.g. pregnant women, children infirm.
  • For chemicals they generally relate to airborne concentrations i.e. they only take into account the inhalation route of entry.
  • They generally refer to single substances, although some guidance may be given on mixed exposures.

Types of Control Measures

  • Elimination/Substitution – the most effective form of prevention control is simply to either eliminate the use of the hazardous agent, or the actual process in which it is used.  This is clearly not often practicable, but quite commonly hazardous agents or processes can be substituted with relatively innocuous ones.
  • Isolation – whenever possible processes or operations, which involve some risk(s) to health, should be completely enclosed, with the operator(s) outside the enclosure.
  • Segregation – Hazardous processes or operations etc. can be segregated from lower risk ones by placing them, for example in a separate room thereby minimising the number of workers at risk.
  • Engineering Controls, Ventilation – Process capable of producing exposures to hazardous substances only, are commonly controlled by the provision of mechanical air handling methods.
  • Administrative Controls – Relate to how the interaction between personnel and the process/operation are organised. Great care is needed to ensure that procedures, once adopted, are observed.
  • Information, Instruction and Training – Education of employees on any health hazards in the workplace and the importance of correctly using all the control measures provided, adopting recommended operating procedures and wearing personal protective equipment, if required, is needed in order to minimise the risk(s) to health.
  • Personal Protective Equipment – Careful consideration must be given to the choice of the PPE device, it is important that the protection effective and comfortable.

What is the Paterson Job Grading System?

The Paterson grading system is an analytical method of job evaluation. It analyzes decision-making in job task performance or job descriptions, and sorts’ jobs into six groups that are graded and grouped into two to three sub-grades, such as stress factors, individual tolerances, length of job and number of job responsibilities- that correspond to organisational levels. The six grades, also called bands, define pay scales.

What is a Homogeneous Exposure Group (HEG)?

A group of employees whose exposure to a hazardous agent have been determined to be statistically similar enough that, by monitoring a small number of individuals in the group, the exposures of the remaining workers can be defined.  The group is statistically homogeneous in the sense that the probability and distribution of exposures is the same for all members of the group.

 

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