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An Overview of the Role of Occupational Hygiene Services

It is often stated, quite correctly, that the majority of accidents in the home occur in the kitchen. Given the presence of obvious hazards such as hot stoves, boiling water, sharp knives, and breakable glassware, this assertion should not come as too much of a surprise. In fact, depending upon the hygiene measures practiced by the cook, a kitchen can also be a common source of illness. In the workplace, however, the hazards to life and limb may be far more numerous and often more severe. Despite this, these risks may not always be immediately evident. For instance, nobody suspected the inherent dangers to employees when exposed to asbestos until a link was established between the increased incidence of mesothelioma and the inhalation of asbestos dust.

This is just one of the risks that have prompted a string of safety regulations and the need for specialised occupational hygiene services. These regulations are the result of a number of acts relating to safety in various industries. In addition to citing the hazards arising from exposure to asbestos, lead, and other chemicals, as well as bio-hazards and excessive noise, they may also define acceptable exposure levels in cases where these have been reliably determined.

The average employer, however, lacks the specialised knowledge, experience and skills required to identify the sources and extent of such hazards in the workplace. To do so, to device adequate protective solutions, and to monitor the effectiveness of those measures, it has proved necessary to create a new family of professionals consisting of doctors, nurses, and environmental specialists. The environmental specialists identify risks, evaluate them, and ensure adequate countermeasures are in place while, doctors and nurses monitor their effectiveness by means of periodic staff medicals. Together, they provide the occupational hygiene services necessary for companies to comply with health, hygiene, and safety regulations.

What, then, are the tasks undertaken by the environmental specialists? In practice, the individual requirements are as varied as they are numerous but may be seen as falling into two main categories – risks to those working in the internal workplace environment and risks to the external environment arising from the workplace. In the former category, the responsibilities of the specialist include conducting health and hygiene risk assessments, monitoring indoor air quality and assessing the adequacy of ventilation, measuring levels of noise, illumination and thermal stress. Other tasks might also involve sampling of hazardous biological materials chemicals and water.

In addressing the environment external to the workplace, the role of occupational hygiene services is to assess any potential risk to the general public and includes such tasks as sampling the ambient air for inhalable particles resulting from dust fallout, examining discharged water, looking for signs of soils contamination, promoting environmental awareness and assisting with the development and implementation of environmental management plans.

These are just a small cross section of the many important services and innovative health and hygiene solutions offered by the Hartbeespoort-based company, IOH Solutions. The company is a fully accredited inspection authority and a preferred provider of occupational hygiene services to many large companies drawn from a wide range of industries both locally and several continental African countries.