Occupational Hygiene and How it Could Help Your Business
Given the current concerns regarding industry’s growing carbon footprint and its visible effect on the earth’s climate, one can be forgiven for believing that occupational hygiene (OH) is about cleaning up the workplace. While there is an element of truth in this belief, the term derives from the name of an ancient Greek goddess “Hygieia”, whose role was safeguarding her follower’s health. In effect, this comparatively new science aims to ensure people’s health and safety while at their place of work. In line with other industrialised nations, South Africa has introduced legislation obliging employers to protect their employees from any potential hazards in the workplace.
The Challenge of Identifying Hazards in the Workplace
That said, identifying such hazards can be challenging for those not trained in occupational hygiene. Some have remained unnoticed for decades, as they were not linked to health issues until recently. While some problems, such as missing safety rails, exposed electrical wiring, and slippery surfaces are easily spotted, many more require specialised investigative methods. In practice, the only way to ensure your workers are adequately protected is to hire an approved OH consultant to conduct an in-depth workplace survey. The consultant’s task will be to anticipate, recognise, evaluate, and manage workplace factors that might affect the health or wellbeing of anyone on the premises.
5 Categories for Occupational Hygiene Management
These factors can be divided into five categories for occupational hygiene management purposes. The most insidious of these are the biological agents. Bacteria and fungi are all around us and pose no problem most of the time. However, when allowed to build up in the air or water supply, they can have serious consequences. Legionnaire’s disease is a classic example. Sampling and laboratory tests will be necessary to confirm or exclude the presence of pathogenic organisms.
Chlorine, carbon dioxide, ammonia, lead, mercury, and benzene are some of the many chemical agents that can prove hazardous for workers unless spotted and dealt with by an occupational hygiene consultant. Some may cause respiratory problems or dermatitis, while others could be carcinogenic or present a fire risk. Once again, it will require specialised sampling and testing procedures to identify these substances and evaluate their potential threat to a company’s employees.
Physical agents that will require investigation include noise, vibration, temperature extremes, ionising radiation, and lighting, to name just a few. In some cases, it might be necessary to monitor both the working environment and those who work in it, to establish an accurate picture. Any occupational hygiene consultant will confirm that repeated, prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise is now the most common cause of deafness, and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common source of industrial compensation claims.
More recently, there has been an increased concern regarding the impact of ergonomic and psychological factors on employees’ health. Musculoskeletal problems arising from heavy lifting, stretching, bending, and repetitive actions cause pain and discomfort and can increase the risk of accidents. Where such risks are identified, some simple changes are often sufficient to eliminate them. The same is true of psychological factors like stress due to unrealistic workloads or poor organisation.
An occupational hygiene consultant from IOH Solutions can ensure the health and safety of your staff, improving your productivity and employee performance. Click here to learn more about our accredited workplace inspection services and contact us today.