industrial hygiene

Keeping Workers Healthy and Safe

Industrial hygiene is concerned with identifying, evaluating, and controlling actual or potential workplace environmental stressors or hazards that can affect the well-being of workers and community members. Therefore, it is sometimes called Occupational Hygiene, Occupational Health, or Workplace Health. Ideally, hazards are identified and controlled when a workplace is being planned, conditions or processes change, or yearly reviews before they become an issue for workers. 

To help ensure proper industrial hygiene and thus the health and safety of your workers, you can employ an industrial hygienist. The role of an industrial hygienist is to anticipate health and safety concerns and design solutions to prevent them. They are the guardians of workplace safety, applying science to identify and solve health and safety problems. Industrial hygienists also unite management, workers, and all segments of a company behind the common goal of health and safety. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene certifies industrial hygienists, providing a well-respected benchmark in the field. 

An industrial hygienist will use rigorous scientific methods to evaluate and control hazards in the workplace, including risk assessment tools and information, such as Safety Data Sheets, which are put together by chemical manufacturers and contain detailed information about each chemical. Industrial hygienists can also conduct a worksite analysis to evaluate all jobs, operations, machinery, and work activities at that site, in addition to problem-solving on specific activities or work areas. 

After a hazard is identified, an industrial hygienist will work with the company to control or eliminate the hazard. This can include substituting a chemical for a less hazardous one, reducing exposure to hazards, utilizing personal protective equipment such as gloves or goggles, or increasing ventilation.

  • Ergonomics
  • Noise
  • Temperature
  • Indoor air quality
  • Chemical exposure
  • Radiation
  • Biological hazards
  • Eliminating Hazards
  • Controlling 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. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.