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Understanding Basic Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene is the science dedicated to protecting workers from health hazards in their workplace. Also known as occupational hygiene or occupational health, it involves anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling conditions that may cause illness or injury to workers.

Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring, engineering controls, and other methods to eliminate or minimize exposures to chemical, biological, physical, and ergonomic hazards at work. Their goal is to foster healthy and safe work environments.

Confined Space Rescue, Technical Rescue, or Training

The Importance of Industrial Hygiene

Safeguarding workers from occupational health hazards is vital. In 2022 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers.

Additionally, occupational illnesses account for an estimated 95,000 deaths per year in the country. Industrial hygiene provides the tools and expertise to anticipate, assess, and mitigate the hazards that lead to these alarming statistics.

Effective industrial hygiene programs are essential for any organization to protect its most valuable asset – its workforce. They enable compliance with health and safety regulations while promoting productivity, morale, and a healthy work environment.

Key Occupational Health Hazards

Workers may encounter a range of potential health hazards based on their industry and job duties. Here are some of the main types:

Chemical Hazards

Exposure to toxic chemicals may occur through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion. Examples include solvents, metals, asbestos, pesticides, and cleaning products. Overexposure can cause acute or chronic respiratory issues, organ damage, cancer, dermatitis, and more.

Biological Hazards

These include infectious microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens that can be inhaled, ingested, or transmitted through contact. Examples are unsanitary conditions leading to flu or virus outbreaks.

Physical Hazards

Excessive noise, vibration, radiation, heat/cold stress, poor lighting, trip hazards, and electrical dangers are critical physical hazards. Effects may include hearing loss, burns, trauma from falls, electric shock, and more.

Ergonomic Hazards

Risk factors like repetitive motions, awkward postures, improper workstation setups, and manual material handling can result in strains, sprains, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and back injuries.

Hierarchy of Controls

To minimize occupational hazards, industrial hygienists utilize a hierarchy of controls approach in descending order of effectiveness:

  • Elimination: Remove the hazard completely from the workplace. Stop using a toxic chemical, safely dispose of it, and replace it with a less hazardous alternative.
  • Substitution: Swap a hazardous material or process with a less dangerous option. Use a cleaning product with reduced volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Engineering Controls: Isolate people from hazards through ventilation, noise dampening, machine guarding, safety interlocks, and other methods. Install local exhaust ventilation to capture welding fumes.
  • Administrative Controls: Change how people work around hazards via training, safe work procedures, exposure time limits, maintenance programs, medical surveillance, and more. Provide training on ergonomics and proper lifting techniques.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Use appropriate PPE like respirators, hearing protection, gloves, and safety glasses if other controls are inadequate.

Exposure Monitoring

Industrial hygienists use various sampling and testing methods to measure worker exposures. Examples include:

  • Air Sampling: Collecting airborne samples for chemicals, dust, and fibers.
  • Noise Dosimetry: Wearing instruments to assess noise dose over a work shift.
  • Biological Monitoring: Testing blood/urine samples for absorbed contaminants.
  • Radiation Monitoring: Measuring radioactivity levels.
  • Ergonomic Assessment: Evaluating repetitive motions, force, and posture.

The results provide data to estimate risks, select controls, and determine compliance. Periodic monitoring helps evaluate control effectiveness.

Key Responsibilities

Industrial hygienists have several key responsibilities that drive their daily work. Their priority is anticipating potential health hazards by thoroughly learning work processes and identifying areas of concern. They are also responsible for recognizing if risks are present by conducting facility walkthroughs and interviews with employees to gain insights.

Industrial hygienists evaluate identified hazards using environmental monitoring, reviewing injury and illness records, and investigating incidents to pinpoint root causes. They also control risks by recommending effective interventions based on the hierarchy of controls, such as improved ventilation, adequate personal protective equipment, implementing safer materials, and robust training programs. Additionally, industrial hygienists ensure appropriate health and safety policies and procedures are implemented across the organization.

Finally, they are responsible for remaining current on the latest regulations, industry trends, standards, and technological advances to continuously improve their organization’s industrial hygiene practices.

Elements of Industrial Hygiene Programs

Whether your organization has an effective hygiene program or you’re looking to implement a new approach, it’s essential to understand what makes these programs effective:

  • Initial Hazard Assessment: Identify concerns through facility inspection, employee input, and history review
  • Ongoing Hazard Surveillance: Conduct routine walkthroughs, monitor procedures, and assess new processes
  • Exposure Monitoring: Use air sampling, noise dosimetry, and ergonomic studies to quantify hazards
  • Hazard Control: Implement engineering, administrative, and PPE controls according to the hierarchy
  • Training: Educate employees on hazards, controls, and safe work practices
  • Recordkeeping: Document hazards and incidents to identify patterns
  • Program Audits: Conduct periodic evaluations to determine effectiveness and compliance

Key Regulations

Industrial hygiene programs help companies comply with regulations like Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limits, which dictate maximum allowed airborne concentrations for hazardous substances.

Other important regulations include OSHA standards for respiratory protection, hazard communication, hearing conservation, bloodborne pathogens, confined spaces, lockout/tagout, ergonomics, and more. Many states also have occupational health regulations.

Partnering with Industrial Hygiene Experts

Organizations looking to implement or improve industrial hygiene programs should consider partnering with external consultants like Amerisafe Group. These experts can provide:

Hazard Assessment and Monitoring

  • Initial walkthroughs to identify risks
  • Air monitoring for chemicals, noise evaluations, and other sampling
  • Biological monitoring through blood tests
  • Testing for hazards like mold, asbestos, and radiation

Training and Communication

  • Safety education on silica, noise, PPE, ergonomics, and more
  • Hazard communication programs
  • New employee orientation on safety policies

Program Development and Compliance

  • Gap analyses of current programs
  • Recommendations to meet OSHA/ANSI standards
  • Written program creation for respiratory protection, hearing conservation, etc.
  • Regulatory compliance assistance, including incident investigation

Exposure Control and Ventilation

  • Exposure assessment and control plans
  • Ventilation testing and design for contaminant control
  • Fume hood evaluation
  • Asbestos and mold remediation solutions

Health Screening and PPE

  • Medical surveillance programs
  • Respirator fit testing
  • PPE assessment and selection

With their depth of experience and comprehensive services, Amerisafe Group helps organizations exceed compliance requirements to foster truly healthier, safer, and more productive work environments.

The Amerisafe Group Advantage

With decades of experience serving various industries, Amerisafe Group has the expertise to provide end-to-end solutions tailored to each client’s needs. Our certified industrial hygienists anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control hazards by determining exposure potentials and assessing concerns, then developing strategic plans that meet your needs. Our safety consultants have strong backgrounds in using appropriate NIOSH, OSHA, EPA, and other regulatory agencies sampling protocols.

With our full range of environmental industrial hygiene and occupational health services, we can help your organization anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control health and safety hazards. Learn more about our industrial hygiene services today, or contact us to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions

An industrial hygienist is a professional devoted to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling health hazards in the workplace to protect workers. They utilize air sampling, audits, training, data analysis, and other methods to minimize risks.

Common industrial hygiene tests include air sampling for chemicals, noise dosimetry, ergonomic assessments, ventilation measurements, radiation monitoring, biological monitoring like blood tests, and reviewing injury logs and incident reports.

Industrial hygiene protects the health and safety of workers. It reduces illnesses, injuries, and fatalities on the job. Effective industrial hygiene programs enable compliance with regulations and support productivity and morale.