Industrial Hygiene | Health and Safety in the Workplace

The Nature and Purpose of an Industrial Hygiene Programme


Industrial hygiene is maintaining a clean workplace, not with buckets and mops, but through a thorough inspection to identify and eliminate hazards to staff. Absence from work is a serious problem that costs the South African economy billions of Rands every year. While days off due to incidents like the annual flu outbreaks are inevitable, work-related illnesses and injuries account for a large percentage of work days lost. However, with suitable precautions, most could be avoided.


Some occupations, like mining and construction, are inherently dangerous. Miners face rockfalls, flooding, fire and explosions, while construction workers may sustain injuries when falling from scaffolding. These dangers are well known, and every precaution is taken to overcome them.


However, although generally less obvious, dangers to health and safety lurk in most work environments. The challenge is to detect them, assess how much risk they pose and, where indicated, introduce suitable countermeasures to protect those at risk. These are the three main steps required for an effective industrial hygiene programme.


The Practical Aspects of an Industrial Hygiene Programme


Industrial Hygiene

Although staff and supervisors may identify some of the more apparent dangers and even eliminate them, many of the threats to workers’ health and safety are more subtle. Some will only be revealed with the aid of specialised instruments or as the result of laboratory analysis.


When the South African government published the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1993, it also catered for interested parties wishing to undergo specialised technical training in the methodology of hazard detection, assessment and mitigation. Companies that want to ensure their employees are safe from work-related illnesses and injuries can now retain the services of an accredited industrial hygiene specialist to conduct a workplace health and safety inspection. The survey will focus on three categories of hazards, as follows:


  • Physical: The technician will look for potential dangers like missing safety rails on cutting machines or ladders, sustained high levels of ambient noise, excessive vibrations, ionising radiation, and extreme temperatures.


  • Chemical: In this case, the search is for elements and compounds in the air or on surfaces that can cause illness. Examples are heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chromium and toxic gases like ammonia, carbon monoxide, chlorine and nitrogen oxides.


  • Biological: You don’t have to work in a microbiology lab to be exposed to pathogenic organisms. Industrial hygiene technicians are often called upon to check a factory’s water supply for signs of Legionella, an organism that can cause a severe and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia. In food processing plants and restaurants, they will swab surfaces, clothing and personnel to check for E.coli, Salmonella and Listeria.


Next Steps in the Industrial Hygiene Inspection


Hazards may be present without posing a significant danger. The inspector will evaluate the level of risk associated with each hazard detected to determine whether countermeasures are necessary and discuss the possible options with management and staff if they are required.


Work-related injuries and illness don’t only impact production. Many lead to costly industrial compensation claims. Furthermore, workers who feel their well-being is disregarded are less loyal and could damage a company’s reputation.


Why not contact IOH Solutions and book a professional workplace inspection today to ensure your employees are safe, happy and fully productive?