What Are the Five Main Principles That Form the Foundation of Occupational Hygiene?
Five principles of occupational hygiene form the basis for ensuring health and safety in the workplace, and employers should be aware of what this entails. Some occupations, such as mining, construction and power generation, are fraught with dangers and tend to be frequent sources of accidents and even fatalities. However, there is far less awareness of the less obvious hazards that threaten workers in most jobs.
According to the Human Capital Review, absenteeism in South Africa could be costing employers as much as R19 billion annually. Although the pandemic has been responsible for a spike in absenteeism, a vast percentage of that staggering figure directly results from work-related injuries or illnesses and could be prevented if employers adopt a suitable industrial hygiene programme. Following the publication of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, this option is now available to employers nationwide and is founded on five main principles as follows:
- Anticipation: One of the main requirements of occupational hygiene is to anticipate what might threaten the health and safety of those in the workplace. The process requires surveying its layout, tasks, processes, materials used, and worker behaviour and might also include an inventory of hazardous chemicals where relevant.
- Recognition: A crucial component of the survey process is to identify anything that might pose a potential health hazard. The focus is mainly on physical, chemical or biological hazards. Could poor ventilation be increasing the risk of dust inhalation or toxic gases? However, the survey may also extend to ergonomics or include factors that might adversely impact a worker’s mental well-being.
- Evaluation: Following the anticipation and recognition of potential workplace hazards, the next step in the occupational hygiene process must be to determine how much of a threat to worker health and safety they might be. For example, the body may tolerate trace amounts of certain potentially toxic chemicals in the air with no short- or long-term ill effects. Determining the seriousness of such hazards requires close monitoring with specialised instruments to ensure their concentration does not exceed local occupational exposure limits.
There are similar criteria governing exposure to physical hazards, such as the repeated, prolonged exposure of workers to loud noise and the associated risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). A single exposure to levels above 85 decibels throughout an eight-hour shift is known to cause irreversible hearing loss, which worsens with each subsequent exposure. Workspace and personal monitoring are essential to identify those at risk of NIHL.
- Control: Workers must be adequately safeguarded when the risk posed by a given hazard is unacceptable by introducing adequate control measures. Such steps might focus on reducing or eliminating the risk or, where this is impractical, providing personal protection, such as earplugs, insulated clothing or masks.
- Confirmation: The process does not end with the implementation of control measures. Further monitoring will be necessary to determine their effectiveness and will require diligent record-keeping to indicate where corrective action may still be necessary.
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