Occupational Hygienist | Their Role in Workplace Safety

The Important Role of the Occupational Hygienist in Workplace Safety


South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act obliges employers to protect their staff from workplace hazards. An occupational hygienist can help them comply. A general awareness that industries such as construction and mining were fraught with dangers prompted the introduction of essential safety measures and, in the case of mining, clinics to investigate and treat respiratory diseases like pneumoconiosis. By contrast, little attention was paid to health and safety measures in other occupations before the Act was put in place in 1993.

What does an occupational hygienist do? IOH Solutions

In practice, any worker could be in danger of exposure to workplace hazards to some degree, regardless of their chosen industry. Initially, concerns raised by the Act were confined to addressing the risks posed by physical, chemical and biological hazards. Subsequently, however, there has been a growing awareness of the effects of ergonomics and psychological pressure on workers’ health and, by extension, their safety.

In this article, we focus the discussion on the three steps involved in addressing these potential hazards.


The Investigation of Workplace Hazards by an Occupational Hygienist


The primary function of these certified specialists is to conduct a detailed assessment of the workplace. While some employers may choose to send a staff member on a course to learn the tricks of the trade, many others prefer to employ an accredited third-party service. Either way, let’s examine each step of the survey process in more detail.

  1. Identification

Following a discussion with the management and staff members to learn more about the company’s operations, the occupational hygienist will tour the workplace looking for potential health and safety hazards based on experience in similar working environments.

The search is intended to identify physical threats like missing guard rails on band saws, potential exposure to chemical agents like ammonia and chlorine and biological hazards like Legionella in the water supply.

The investigation could involve monitoring vibrations, temperature and ambient noise, air sampling, surface swabs and other specialised techniques. In many cases, it will require additional testing in a laboratory.

  1. Evaluation

Even though a potential hazard is detected, it might not threaten worker health and safety. For example, the South African government defines the levels of hazardous chemical agents that require precautionary methods. Lower levels may be considered tolerable, requiring no compulsory action. An occupational hygienist will offer advice based on the results obtained by accurate monitoring and analysis of the working environment and the perceived level of risk to exposed personnel.

  1. Mitigation

Once the evaluation stage has been completed and any genuine risks to health and safety identified, the specialist’s role changes from investigator to advisor. Industrial hygiene personnel cannot enforce health and safety measures but only recommend them based on their training and experience.

For example, suppose findings reveal some workers are repeatedly exposed to prolonged periods of noise sufficiently loud to cause permanent hearing loss. In that case, they will suggest ways to reduce noise levels, the use of ear defenders, or both. They will also offer guidelines to counter each established risk.

Finding an Occupational Hygienist

IOH Solutions provides specialised occupational hygiene services by experienced professionals. Follow this link to learn more about how we can help protect your workers’ health and safety, cut your costs, and boost your productivity.


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