Occupational Hygiene | Workplace Hazards | Health & Safety

Strict Occupational Hygiene Measures Will Reduce the Incidence of Workplace Illnesses

Workplaces often contain potential health hazards, although they may not be visible. Learn how occupational hygiene can help prevent work-related illnesses.

The well-being of employees whilst at work became a major issue in South Africa following the publication of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1993. Until then, concerns about worker safety had been directed mainly at the mining industry and on ways to manage the high incidence of pulmonary diseases like pneumoconiosis resulting from dust inhalation.

A growing awareness of the high rates of absenteeism in other industries and its impact on the economy prompted the studies that would eventually lead to the government’s decision to take action and the birth of a new science known as occupational hygiene. The term suggests cleanliness and does, in fact, involve cleansing the working environment of anything that might pose a risk of illnesses or accidents to an employee.

Such hazards may be physical, chemical or biological. Here are some examples of each that can threaten one’s health:

Physical Hazards

Extremes of temperature, vibration, tasks that involve extreme exertion, and repeated bending or stretching can all contribute to ill health. For example, musculoskeletal disorders frequently result from repeatedly employing the same hand or arm action.

However, the most common physical cause of illness in the workplace is noise. Exposure to 85 decibels during an 8-hour shift is sufficient to cause irreversible sensorineural hearing loss, which worsens with each subsequent exposure. Typical occupational hygiene countermeasures are noise reduction and protective earware. Notably, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common form of deafness and the largest source of industrial compensation claims.

Occupational Hygiene

Chemical Hazards

Many manufacturing processes involve milling, boring, sanding or drilling, each of which can release fine particles that may be ingested or inhaled or become impacted in the skin. Some metals, such as lead, are naturally toxic to humans, and a gradual build-up of the metal in the body can have serious consequences. Others may trigger allergic reactions in sensitive subjects, while repeated exposure to gaseous chemicals like ammonia, toluene, chlorine or bromine can cause severe lung damage if inhaled. In some cases, skin contact could also cause burns.

Most people know the danger of asbestos fibres, but any fine particles in the atmosphere could pose a threat. An industrial hygiene specialist will examine the air and surfaces in the workplace for evidence of chemical hazards and advise on a strategy to manage them, thus reducing the incidence of illness and absenteeism.

Biological Hazards

Microorganisms are present in all environments except where aseptic measures are in place, but these are impractical outside designated clean areas and operating rooms. In the average workplace, the most common areas of concern are the air conditioning and water supply. Airborne pathogens become trapped in filters and won’t be a threat if these are cleaned regularly. However, if present in the water supply, Legionella, a bacterium responsible for a severe and potentially fatal form of pneumonia, will require professional intervention.

Get Help from an Occupational Hygiene Specialist 

IOH Solutions conducts comprehensive workplace inspections for several large companies in South Africa. We will identify and evaluate any hazards and advise how to counter them. Click here to learn more about our services and begin protecting your staff’s health and safety today.


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