While nobody can deny that personal cleanliness can play a role in ensuring our health, the concepts embraced by the term industrial hygiene are considerably more far-reaching than ensuring the washrooms are kept stocked with antiseptic handwash and disposable paper towels. When applied to the workplace, the word “hygienic” implies an environment cleansed of anything hazardous, whether physical, chemical, or biological, which could possibly threaten the health or safety of a company’s employees, or damage the environment immediately surrounding its premises.
Identifying those potential hazards requires both specialised knowledge and experience. In South Africa, the required knowledge is available through courses run by several of the country’s universities, as well as the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH). Those with a medical or scientific qualification may pursue a postgraduate Diploma in Occupational Health (DOH) or a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH). For others who wish to learn about industrial hygiene, the NIOH also undertakes the task of teaching and training managers, supervisors, and employees who may then use their knowledge to develop their own programmes in-house.
Undertaking to ensure the health and safety of one’s employees whilst at work, however, can be a time-consuming and demanding task, and one that carries great responsibility. For these reasons, many business owners prefer to allocate that responsibility to a specialised service provider with the necessary trained personnel, equipment, and experience. This, they believe, is the best way to ensure that all potential hazards are identified, any resulting risk to workers is reliably assessed, and their management apprised of any remedial industrial hygiene measures the company may need to adopt.
Hazards come in a variety of forms and, in many cases, they can only be identified with the aid of specialised techniques and technologies. For example, chemical and biological hazards could be airborne or present on working surfaces, or even find their way into the water supply. Only a painstaking examination, accompanied by a battery of the appropriate laboratory tests, can be guaranteed to reveal their presence. If such hazards are detected, it then becomes the task of the industrial hygiene expert to determine whether or not the concentration in which any of these is present could be considered a significant risk to the health of those operating in the affected workplace.
Should this prove to be the case, the next step for the specialists will be to formulate an effective safety strategy. In the case of an airborne toxin, for example, this would begin with efforts to eliminate it or reduce it to more manageable levels. It may also require the introduction of protective measures, such as respirators, masks, and special clothing for employees in the affected area.
Eliminating physical hazards is an equally crucial function of the industrial hygiene specialist. These might include inadequately shielded machinery, exposed electrical wires or contacts, extremes of temperature, and excessively high levels of ambient noise. Each of these represents a source of danger to a company’s employees, as well as the risk of a sizeable compensation claim unless managed appropriately.
Industrial hygiene measures are, therefore, important to both employees and employers, but are best left to an expert. So, why not give IOH solutions a call to ensure that your workers are as safe as they should be?