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In the case of a food production plant or a restaurant, we tend to view hygiene in the workplace as consisting of rules about washing one’s hands, keeping working surfaces clean, and providing the necessary tools and materials with which to do so. While such actions will serve to limit the spread of gastrointestinal disorders, in practical terms, cleanliness alone falls far short of what is covered by this deceptively simple definition today.

The phrase is now used far more comprehensively and refers to a strategy that has been designed to eliminate any and all perceived hazards to the health of employees whilst at work or which may pose a threat to the surrounding environment and its inhabitants. For example, a piece of machinery without an adequate guard rail could lead to the loss of a limb or worse, while Legionella in the water supply or air-conditioning is a biological hazard for which alternative hygiene measures are required in the workplace.

One particular physical hazard that affects far too many employees annually is excessive noise. Constant exposure to levels of noise of 85 decibels or more can cause permanent hearing loss within eight hours. Furthermore, each additional increase of around three decibels halves the time for this to occur. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is not only the most common type of deafness, but also the most frequent source of industrial compensation claims. The prevention of NIHL is just one of many responsibilities undertaken by the specialist companies tasked with the management of hygiene measures in the workplace.

One of the greatest hazards faced by workers for centuries has been the inhalation of harmful substances present in the working atmosphere. The dangers of coal dust and asbestos fibres are well-known, and the risks are generally well managed. However, gasses and chemicals can also be hazardous, even in concentrations that are too low for humans to sense. Their effects are often cumulative and become apparent only after months or even years of exposure, so it is vital that employers arrange for an in-depth investigation to detect these and any form of potential health hazard by a company experienced in the recognition and evaluation of hygiene risks in the workplace and the measures employed in their mitigation.

The investigation will consist of two parts. The first is to identify every potential hazard, and this is a task that requires both broad experience and specific industry knowledge. Not all hazards necessarily pose a risk to workers, so the second step is to identify those that do, after which the investigators will take a look at any relevant preventative measures currently employed by the client and recommend any changes or improvements that might further increase the protection of workers.

To ensure that hygiene measures in the workplace remain sufficient, these inspections should be repeated at intervals with special emphasis on those areas in which any residual risk is dependent upon the effectiveness of those countermeasures in place. New equipment and new processes will often result in new hazards that only a well-trained eye and years of experience will expose.

Few companies in South Africa are better able to evaluate your company’s needs than IOH Solutions. Talk to them about hygiene in the workplace.