Occupational hygienist | Workplace hazards

The Role of an Occupational Hygienist in the Management of Workplace Hazards

Many employees are exposed to potential hazards yet remain unaware of the threat they pose. An occupational hygienist can identify, assess and manage them. According to statistics compiled by the compensation fund, between 2001 and 2019, more than 3,85 million claims were submitted for consideration. Of these, just over 3,8 million were for work-related injuries and 44 014 for occupational diseases, excluding musculoskeletal disorders.

These figures are alarming enough, even when viewed in isolation. They are even more worrying when one considers the enormous cost to industry and the economy in general due to related absenteeism. Such concerns led to the publication of South Africa’s updated Health and Safety at Work Act in 1993. The revised legislation placed the responsibility for the well-being of employees whilst at work firmly on their employers.

To assist them, the government established training courses to instruct personnel in the recognition, evaluation, and management of workplace hazards. In parallel, doctors were also given the option of additional training in diagnosing and treating work-related injuries and illnesses.

Occupational hygienist | Workplace hazards

The essential skills of an Occupational hygienist

For those trained to provide occupational hygiene services, the objectives are straightforward. Look for possible hazards, determine whether they represent a genuine threat and who may be at risk, and offer advice about how to eliminate or minimise that risk. The following sections describe a few of the specialised skills necessary to achieve these goals.

  • Science background:

    A sound knowledge of biology, physics, chemistry, and maths is the basic requirement, but many also have experience in specialist subjects such as environmental health and medical laboratory technology. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is generally mandatory for those planning to provide these services commercially.

  • Observational skills:

    Surprisingly, workers are often surrounded by hazards yet remain blissfully unaware of them. Consequently, a sharp pair of eyes is a prerequisite for success in this highly-skilled profession. Fortunately, an occupational hygienist frequently knows what to look for in advance based on previous experiences with similar working environments.

  • Technical skills:

    Conducting a workplace health and safety assessment begins with a search for potential physical, chemical and biological hazards. The first two of these frequently involve the use of specialised equipment. For example, it may be necessary to monitor ambient noise levels to confirm or eliminate the risk of noise-induced hearing loss. In the case of biological threats, familiarity with the technique of surface, air and water sampling and sterile practices is crucial when testing for Legionella and other microorganisms.

  • Analytical ability:

    Spotting a hazard is only the first step. Identifying those at risk and assessing the extent to which it may threaten their health and safety requires an in-depth study and careful analysis. For example, certain toxic chemicals in the air pose no danger if their concentration remains within recommended limits.

  • Communication skills:

    Once a threat is confirmed, an occupational hygienist must be able to advise management and staff about effective countermeasures and convince them to act on their advice.

The IOH Solutions option

Our staff possess all the above skills and more, and we are certified to conduct occupational hygiene services on your behalf. Why not contact us to inquire about reducing your absenteeism, increasing your production and reducing your costs today?