Occupational hygiene | Employee health | Workplace hazards

Safeguarding Employee Health Through Occupational Hygiene

Ill health costs South Africa’s industries billions annually. However, much of this loss can be avoided with some help from an occupational hygiene specialist. Of course, colds and flu are responsible for some of the absenteeism, but workers are seldom incapacitated for more than a few days. However, work-related injuries and illnesses frequently leading to more prolonged periods of absence are of far greater concern.

Statistics compiled by OCSA (Occupational Care South Africa) suggest that around 15 per cent of the workforce might be absent on any given day. Anything that could reduce that figure could provide the nation’s ailing economy with a significant boost. In practice, the bulk of those costly illnesses and injuries could be prevented by addressing the various hazards that led to them.

The average workplace is full of potential hazards to health and safety. Some are obvious yet often ignored, while others remain concealed and pose an ongoing threat to unsuspecting employees. In 1993, the government released the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Its purpose was to encourage employers to identify and mitigate these hazards, thereby boosting workplace wellness. To assist them, the government initially provided training in the techniques of occupational hygiene. While some employers used the opportunity to train a staff member, a few entrepreneurs adopted the role of third-party service providers.

The Role of an Occupational Hygiene ProfessionalOccupational Hygiene

In simple terms, the task of these specialists is to identify any potential hazards to workers’ health and safety and evaluate them to determine the extent of the danger they actually pose and who is at risk. Finally, if indicated, they must advise management and employees about appropriate protective measures.

Working environments vary widely, even within the same industry. Nevertheless, experienced investigators will be familiar with the relevant physical, chemical or biological hazards and know where and how to find them. However, eliminating them or minimising their impact also requires practical skills. For example, an occupational hygienist must be able to operate monitoring equipment and perform sampling procedures relevant to each hazard category.

  • Physical:

    Visual inspection will reveal dangers like slippery surfaces and missing safety guards, but others need a more technical approach. For example, confirming the risk of hearing loss due to high levels of ambient noise requires monitoring both the environment and exposed personnel. Other technical challenges include measuring the intensity of vibrations, temperature variations and ionising radiation levels.

  • Chemical:

    Air and surface sampling techniques are prerequisites. On-site screening tests can help identify potential irritants or toxins, but determining their concentration requires quantitative analysis and sophisticated laboratory facilities.

  • Biological:

    The requirements are similar to those for investigating chemical hazards, but knowledge of the aseptic procedures used in microbiology is also essential.

Protection With an Occupational Hygiene Survey

Sometimes a modest investment delivers exceptional returns. Imagine slashing your outlay on sickness pay and temporary staff, reducing production losses due to absence and never needing to worry about claims for industrial compensation. IOH Solutions can make that vision a reality.

We are accredited occupational hygiene specialists providing services in Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Cape. For peace of mind, why not get in touch and ensure your workers, visitors and, by extension, your business are all fully protected?