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So what is Occupational Hygiene?

Dr Barry Chesson, Occupational Hygiene Solutions Pty Ltd

So what is Occupational Hygiene? Let’s start with what it’s not. Occupational Hygiene has nothing to do with cleaning urinals in the toilet block of a factory. Admittedly, there is a limited link with personal hygiene practices in that if you work with toxic materials such as lead, pesticides, asbestos or many chemical substances, then the way in which you keep yourself clean and avoid intake of the contaminant is one way of staying healthy. But Occupational Hygiene is much, much more than promoting personal hygiene practices in workplaces where hazardous materials are handled.

Occupational Hygiene may be described as the recognition, evaluation and control of physical, chemical, biological and ergonomic hazards at the workplace. It is a science-based discipline that has a technical component as well as a people component, so it appeals to those who like measuring things as well as interacting with individuals and groups in the workplace to protect health.

Occupational Hygienists are usually drawn from backgrounds in engineering, the physical sciences, such as chemistry or physics, or from the biological or environmental sciences. They need well developed problem-solving and communication skills. Those working in industry would typically interact on a daily basis with managers, supervisors, engineers, scientists, safety representatives, environment, health or safety professionals, and other employees. At any time they might be seen carrying out a measurement of a workplace air contaminant, measuring the performance of engineering controls, developing a sampling plan, analysing results, providing training or feedback to a work group, working with engineers on a design issue or seeking to implement administrative or protective equipment controls to protect the health of the workforce.

AREAS OF INTEREST IN OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE

• Dusts

• Asbestos and fi bres

• Gases

• Vapours

• Fumes

• Mists

• Heavy metals

• Chemical hazards

• Biological hazards

• Noise

• Vibration

• Ionising radiation

• Non-ionising radiation

• Thermal stress

• Ergonomic hazards

• Water quality