Occupational Hygiene | Workplace Hazards | Health & Safety

Occupational Hygiene is a Key Factor in Employee Health and Safety


South Africa’s employers are legally bound to protect the health and safety of staff whilst at work. Occupational hygiene strategies can help them comply. An effective plan requires a thorough inspection of the work environment to identify, evaluate and mitigate any hazards that might put one or more employees at risk of a work-related illness or injury.


Since the first humans accepted payment in exchange for their labour, their welfare was at risk. For millennia, their paymasters paid little attention to their often appalling and dangerous working conditions and how these affected their well-being. The first show of official concern came only in 1833 when the UK government introduced the Factories Act. Its purpose was to protect the child workforce in Britain’s textile industry from overwork and injury and included the appointment of factory inspectors.


Such protection applied only to textile workers until 1974, when the British parliament introduced the more radical Health and Safety at Work Act, providing a single piece of legislation that applied to all of the country’s employees. It took a further 19 years before South Africa eventually followed suit with the publication of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993. Like the British equivalent, it also made specialised training available for occupational hygiene inspectors.


Occupational Hygiene Strategies in Action


Mines, construction sites and manufacturing plants are inherently dangerous environments. Employers and workers know the risks and generally adhere to the safety measures necessary to protect them. Consequently, it often is not the well-documented, visible hazards that pose the greatest threat but the less obvious hidden ones. Recognising those is a task for a certified occupational hygienist, and after some fact-gathering from management and personnel, it begins with a detailed workplace inspection.

Occupational hygiene

A typical survey will focus on one or more of the following types of hazards often found in the working environment:


  • Noxious chemicals like ammonia, chlorine, carbon dioxide and organic solvents that compromise the indoor air quality
  • Biological hazards, like airborne fungal spores
  • Physical dangers, including excessive noise or vibrations and extreme temperatures
  • Poor ergonomics that might lead to overexertion, excessive fatigue, accidents and painful musculoskeletal disorders


Air Quality Can Be a Severe Threat to Health and Safety


At rest, humans breathe about 12 to 18 times a minute, but depending on the task, this could rise to between 40 and 60 when working. Each breath consists mainly of nitrogen with 21% oxygen and small quantities of argon, CO² and water vapour. However, indoor air quality is often questionable. It could contain contaminants that could cause asthma, bronchiectasis or, in the longer term, a potentially fatal malignant lung tumour.


Whether you operate a factory or a suite of offices, it is in everyone’s interest to arrange for air samples to be taken and analysed to ensure maximum indoor air quality.


Occupational Hygiene Services


Ensuring indoor air quality and eliminating other hazards means healthy workers, less absenteeism and, by extension, greater productivity and improved profitability. IOH Solutions is accredited to perform an occupational hygiene inspection of your premises. Don’t hesitate to contact us to arrange an appointment if you have any concerns about your workers’ health and safety.