OSHA describes industrial hygiene as “the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness.” Man has long been wary of work environment, seeking to understand what factors may have an adverse effect on the workers’ health. Even in ancient times, scholars have sought the means to battle perceived health risks. More recently, it has been discovered that exposure to toxins correlates with worker illness. Solutions were offered to improve work conditions until, beginning 1911, states began to pass workers’ compensation laws. Scientific developments have enabled us to understand how, in the workplace, diseases and injuries come to be – and industrial hygienists help us to prevent them.
An industrial hygienist relies on environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect health hazards. Understanding the extent of potential exposure is the key to control these health hazards and maintain a safe work environment. Their job is to thoroughly analyze the workplace and anticipate how chemicals and physical dangers can affect worker health, and to recommend the means to control these hazards, whether through engineering, administrative means, or by altering work practices, which places control in the hands of the worker through mandating protective equipment or safety procedures that include good housekeeping, regulating food intake, and overseeing inspections.
An industrial hygienist’s job includes:
- Analyze the workplace for potential hazards,
- Identify and measure workplace hazards via environmental monitoring and analytical methods,
- Recommend corrective actions such as engineering, administrative, or work practice controls, and
- Help managers understand the benefits of a safe, well-designed work environment.
OSHA’s industrial hygienists perform worksite analyses to determine potential hazards, where they observe, analyze, and sample potentially harmful materials. Understanding a Material Safety Data Sheet is the key to knowing the characteristics of hazardous materials and what workplace exposure level is permissible.