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Guide to Industrial Hygiene

Industrial Hygiene

One of the main priorities of any workplace is to keep its employees safe and healthy. But in practice, ensuring employee safety and health can prove difficult. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 5,250 workers died from workplace-related injuries in 2018, and 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses occurred in the private sector alone.

Fortunately, proper industrial hygiene in the workplace can help. A robust industrial hygiene and chemical safety program helps reduce hazard levels in the workplace, and it gives employees the tools and protection they need to stay safe when they encounter hazards. In this guide, we'll discuss how an industrial hygiene program works.

What Is Industrial Hygiene?

Industrial hygiene is the science of controlling hazardous workplace conditions to prevent employees from becoming sick or injured.

Industrial hygiene involves recognizing, evaluating and adjusting for workplace hazards to help keep employees safe and healthy. It often entails the use of workplace monitoring and analysis to determine the levels of industrial hygiene hazards exposure. It also requires engineering solutions and workplace controls to help minimize those hazards.

Industrial hygiene had its beginnings in antiquity, when Roman scholars documented the health risks to workers exposed to sulfur, lead and zinc. Over further centuries, governments began enacting legislation to address industrial hygiene, starting with England's Chimney-Sweepers Act of 1788. The United States enacted important pieces of legislation like the Metal and Nonmetallic Mines Safety Act of 1966, the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Importance of Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene is essential because it helps protect employees from several types of injuries and illnesses, including:

  • Nonfatal illnesses: Skin, lung and gastrointestinal diseases like anthrax are common occupational hazards in agricultural operations, and blood-borne illnesses like hepatitis B and C are common occupational hazards in medical settings and laboratories. Industrial hygiene can help prevent the transmission of these diseases and many others.
  • Respiratory conditions: Respiratory conditions like chronic bronchitis, asbestosis and pneumonitis are common occupational hazards, especially in industries like mining where inhaling dust is common. Industrial hygiene can help by mandating the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and improving working conditions.
  • Skin diseases: Skin diseases like dermatitis, eczema, rashes and blisters are common in industries where workers' skin comes into contact with hazardous chemicals. Industrial hygiene can help by mandating PPE and offering guidelines about how chemicals are used, labeled and stored in the workplace.
  • Poisoning: Poisoning can occur if workers accidentally ingest toxic chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, formaldehyde or cleaning agents. Workers might also absorb those chemicals through their skin. Industrial hygiene can help by mandating how poisons are used, labeled and stored.
  • Hearing loss: Hearing loss can occur when employees are exposed to high-decibel sounds in environments like airports or at construction and mining sites where detonations occur. Industrial hygiene can help by mandating personal PPE and offering guidelines about noise exposure in the workplace.
  • Repetitive stress injuries: Repetitive stress injuries occur when employees perform the same motions many times throughout the workday. Industrial hygiene can help by offering guidelines about correct posture and lifting techniques and mandating breaks for employees engaged in repetitive tasks.

Economic Effects of Absenteeism

Industrial hygiene has benefits for employers as well. When employees miss work because of illness or injury, employers tend to suffer losses:

  • Lost productivity: Absenteeism in the workplace leads to lost productivity. When employees are absent, they cannot do the same amount of work, and scrambling to cover shifts in one area may lead to staffing shortages in another. And even when employees return, they may be slower and less productive because they still don't feel their best.
  • Diminished morale: High numbers of injuries and illnesses in the workplace tend to put a damper on employee morale. Plus, decreased employee morale can lead to even further diminished productivity, as well as distractedness, which can result in a vicious cycle of injury.
  • Lost profits: Studies show that absenteeism costs companies about $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried employees. These costs include wages paid during sick leave, the high cost of replacement workers and the profit losses associated with reduced production.

Fortunately, proper industrial hygiene helps keep employees safe, healthy, present and productive.

What Does an Industrial Hygienist Do?

An industrial hygienist plays an essential role in ensuring employee safety and health in the workplace. Industrial hygienists are certified experts in the identification, evaluation and control of workplace hazards. More than 40% of the OSHA compliance officers who perform inspections in workplaces are classified as industrial hygienists. As part of their work duties, industrial hygienists help develop and set occupational safety and health regulations by evaluating the employees' exposure to workplace hazards. They then outline what steps are required to control those hazards.

Two essential roles of the industrial hygienist are identifying workplace hazards and helping workplaces control them:

1. Identification of Hazards or Stressors

The first step in an industrial hygienist's job is to identify the hazards or stressors that put employees at risk. Industrial hygienists identify hazards and stressors such as toxic chemicals, biohazards and physical hazards.

They typically do this by performing a worksite assessment in which they evaluate a workplace, identify its hazards and stressors and work to figure out what needs to change to improve safety and health.

2. Elimination or Control Through Appropriate Measures

Once they have identified the hazards in a workplace, industrial hygienists can begin developing a plan for eliminating or controlling of those hazards. Though total elimination of the hazard is ideal, in many situations, they have to settle for partial control through the implementation of safety protocols. Industrial hygienists are often involved in the development of standards to protect workers, and they are often the people who set up the field enforcement protocols and procedures to ensure workplaces are implementing those standards and abiding by them.

Overview of Industrial Hygiene Hazards and Controls

Industrial hygiene hazards — and the controls implemented to reduce them – generally take five different forms: environmental, chemical, biological, physical and ergonomic.

1. Environmental

Environmental hazards include stressors like air contaminants. These may be either particulate contaminants or gas and vapor contaminants.

Some common particulate contaminants include the following:

  • Aerosols: Though aerosols are classed as particulate contaminants, they are tiny liquid particles. Aerosols are a specific, exceptionally respirable kind of mist. Dust: Dust is the tiny solid particles that form through activities such as abrading, blasting, crushing, drilling and grinding.
  • Fibers: Fibers are long thin, solid particles. They are several times bigger in length than in diameter.
  • Fumes: Fumes form when a solid becomes volatilized — as by burning – and then the volatilized particles condense in the air. Most of the time, these solid particles react with the air to form oxides.
  • Mists: Mists are finely separated liquids that hang suspended in the atmosphere. They form when activities such as atomizing, foaming or splashing disperse a liquid into fine particles or when substances condense from a vapor back into a liquid suspension.
  • Gases: Examples of gas contaminants in the workplace include carbon monoxide, which is a common byproduct of the operation of internal combustion engines, as well as welding gases such as acetylene, nitrogen, helium and argon.
  • Vapors: Vapors form when substances that exist in solid or liquid states under normal temperature and pressure conditions change into a gaseous form — that is, they evaporate. Cleaning substances, paints and solvents are particularly susceptible to vaporizing, especially when under pressure or at high heats.

Adequate ventilation and the use of proper PPE, such as respirators and face shields, are often effective controls for environmental hazards.

2. Chemical

Hazardous chemical compounds can take the form of gases, liquids, solids, dust, mists, vapors and fumes. They have harmful effects when employees ingest, inhale or absorb them through their skin.

To help control chemical hazards, facilities that use them should maintain a safety data sheet (SDS) for each chemical. The SDS comes directly from the manufacturer or supplier and contains essential health-related and toxicological information. Each chemical should also have a label with information that matches the chemical's safety data sheet.

3. Biological

Biological hazards include bacteria, viruses and fungi that can cause illnesses. Biological hazards are common in laboratory and medical facilities, as well as in agricultural and food-processing operations. Any industry in which employees may become exposed to human or animal bodily fluids poses a risk of biological contamination.

Proper personal hygiene — including hand-washing measures and the use of PPE — is essential to help control biological hazards. Adequate ventilation, waste disposal systems and isolation protocols in the case of highly infectious diseases are also crucial.

4. Physical

Physical hazards occur when workplaces experience excessive levels of physical disruptions like:

  • Heat exposure: Radiant heat exposure represents a hazard in environments like steel mills and other factories. Here, employees must often work near equipment and substances that give off extreme heat. Reflective shields and protective clothing and goggles can help control this hazard.
  • Noise: Noise levels in the workplace become hazardous when employees are exposed to significant decibel levels over an extended time. Facilities can reduce noise hazards by installing silencers, mufflers or baffles to reduce noise levels. They can also try enclosing noisy machinery, or they can custom-engineer their machinery for quiet operation. Ensuring that all equipment is in good repair and receives regular maintenance helps reduce the squealing and grinding noises associated with maintenance needs.
  • Radiation: Radiation hazards exist in workplaces that contain equipment like X-ray machines and lasers, as well as in the nuclear, defense, aviation and oil and gas industries. Protective shields help reduce the risk of radiation exposure. In some cases, limiting the time of exposure also helps reduce the risks. However, in some cases — as with lasers — even infinitesimal exposure can inflict lasting damage.
  • Vibration : Vibration poses a particular hazard in transportation, where the drivers of logging, mining and long-haul trucks, cement mixers and construction equipment must ride over vibrating engines all day. The vibration of heavy equipment in factories can also cause discomfort. Workplaces can install shock absorbers and suspension systems in vehicles, or they can mount heavy equipment on specific mounts to help reduce vibration.

5. Ergonomic

Ergonomic hazards are the hazards associated with poor posture and task-performing techniques in the workplace. Repeated activities such as holding lifting, pushing, reaching and even walking can all pose ergonomic hazards because their motions stress the body, especially when performed incorrectly.

Activities such as working on high-speed assembly lines, performing repetitive motions and being subjected to vibrations or shocks can pose ergonomic risks. Even activities like focusing on a computer screen — or some other fixed space — can lead to eyestrain.

Workplaces can control ergonomic hazards in several ways:

  • Administrative practices: Administrators can help control ergonomic hazards by rotating employees among tasks. Rotation ensures that muscles do not become strained through the performance of a single repetitive task. They can also mandate breaks for employees every few hours.
  • Job site design: Facilities can design their job site with ergonomic best practices in mind. Office workstations should contain ergonomically correct, adjustable chairs and keyboards. Workstations in more active environments should minimize excessive strain. For example, workstations could keep the most commonly needed materials at waist level to reduce excessive bending and reaching. Facilities can also light their workspaces effectively to decrease the risk of eyestrain.
  • Tools: Facilities can also provide their employees with equipment to ease the physical strain of their duties. These might include hand carts or mechanical lifters and loaders that absorb much of the burden of material handling.
  • Training: Facilities can provide training to educate employees on the proper techniques for activities like lifting, pulling and reaching. They can also instruct employees on how often to take breaks to reduce the risk of injury.

What Organizations Influence Industrial Hygiene Assessments?

A few different organizations influence the assessment of industrial hygiene, including:

OSHA

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that regulates workplace safety and health. It establishes regulations and performs inspections to determine whether workplaces are abiding by them, and it can issue citations for noncompliance with its regulations.

NIOSH

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is also a federal agency — it is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, its role is primarily to perform research and give recommendations in the field of occupational safety and health to help boost employee safety and well-being. It also aims to build capacity in addressing workplace hazards and reducing occupational safety and health hazards around the world through global collaboration.

ACGIH

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is a nonprofit organization that serves as a professional resource for industrial hygienists. Its goal is to serve as a repository of best practices and educational programs to assist industrial hygienists in their work.

Understanding OSHA's Standards

OSHA maintains a compendium of standards for control of hazards in the workplace. Understanding OSHA's standards is critical for helping workplaces keep their employees safe and healthy.

Examples of OSHA's industrial hygiene standards are those that require workplaces to do the following:

  • Provide fall protection
  • Prevent mining cave-ins
  • Prevent exposure to certain infectious diseases
  • Ensure the safety of workers in confined spaces
  • Minimize exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Place guards on dangerous machines
  • Provide respirators and other safety equipment when necessary
  • Provide adequate training for hazardous positions

Creating a Successful Industrial Hygiene Program

Creating a successful industrial hygiene program takes some work, but with careful, dedicated planning and execution, it can make the working environment much safer and healthier.

Risk Assessments

One of the first steps in creating a successful industrial hygiene program is risk assessment. Risk assessments typically involve observing employees at work and determining their exposure to hazards during different tasks.

One standard method of risk assessment involves breaking employee tasks down into no more than 10 discrete steps. Management personnel can then assess the hazards they see, making sure to evaluate different types of hazards — environmental, biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic — and evaluate both routine and non-routine tasks.

Worksite Analysis

Creating a successful industrial hygiene program also involves a worksite analysis. During a worksite analysis, a professional industrial hygienist comes to the worksite to evaluate its exposures and controls. The industrial hygienist will measure exposure levels, assess task performance and analyze the workplace's risks. The worksite analysis will likely also involve sampling and testing of the air and work surfaces to evaluate contaminant levels.

A quality worksite analysis should include all operations and work activities and should give the industrial hygienist ample opportunity to inspect, research and analyze. The industrial hygienist will recommend corrective action upon discovering any hazardous situation at the worksite.

What to Include

What should a facility include in its plans for a new industrial hygiene program? Some fundamental components of a new program include these:

  • Identification of a person or team responsible for program oversight and industrial hygiene monitoring.
  • Preliminary exposure assessments, including industrial hygiene testing and sampling measures.
  • Identification of hazard areas.
  • Identification of possible control measures.
  • Selection and procurement of respiratory protection and other PPE as needed.
  • Thorough documentation of identified hazards.
  • Thorough documentation of health and safety protocols to be followed.
  • Training plan and materials.

Communicating the Results

After a facility has obtained results of its hazard assessment and has a plan in place to address them, the next step is to communicate the results to employees. Clear communication at this stage helps managers and their teams get on the same page. It helps workers understand what the new protocols require of them and how the new protocols will help keep them safe and healthy.

Planning for Change

Of course, conditions in the workplace are always evolving, and hazards may change. A facility may start using new chemicals or machinery, or it may introduce a new process that puts more physical strain on employees' bodies throughout the day. A facility should design its new industrial hygiene program with enough built-in flexibility to accommodate new hazards and develop effective new controls.

Controls for Industrial Hygiene Hazards

When it comes to industrial hygiene controls, the "hierarchy of controls" that NIOSH outlines is a useful tool in risk assessment. The hierarchy of controls offers guidelines for how to control a hazard, beginning with the most conservative controls that reduce hazards and working toward controls that protect against the hazard if it cannot be minimized:

1. Elimination

This step involves eliminating the hazard, if possible. For example, a workplace might stop using a chemical or eliminate the use of radiation in its operations.

2. Substitution

This step involves replacing the hazard with a safer alternative. For example, a workplace might switch from toxic chemicals to non-toxic ones to protect its employees. Or they might upgrade an outdated piece of equipment with one offering more guards and safety features.

3. Engineering Controls

This step involves isolating employees from the hazard through structural changes. A workplace might install a protective shield around a loud piece of machinery or radioactive equipment. Creating confined workspaces and installing robust ventilation systems are also examples of effective engineering controls.

4. Administrative Controls

This step involves using administrative policies to change how employees work. Management staff can rotate employee assignments or adjust the techniques employees use. Administrators can also implement training procedures to give employees the tools and knowledge they need to protect themselves.

5. Personal Protective Equipment

This step involves having workers wear PPE to protect themselves during exposure to workplace hazards. PPE like gloves, masks, face shields, coveralls, steel-toed boots, flame-resistant clothing, harnesses and respirators can all be useful, depending on the specific work environment.

Contact 1Source for a Free Industrial Hygiene Quote

Environmental health and safety and industrial hygiene are so important — they save lives and prevent injuries and illnesses. When you need to improve the industrial hygiene processes in your workplace, make us your trusted source for reliable solutions.

Our certified industrial hygienists offer sampling and testing — including chemical substance sampling, hazardous chemicals consulting and physical stressors sampling — to ensure the safety of your workspaces. Our knowledgeable staff members can also assist your facility with routine, emergency and OSHA compliance monitoring.

Contact 1Source today for a free quote or to learn more.

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