Occupational Hygienist | Workplace Hazards

How the Services of an Occupational Hygienist can Benefit Employers and Employees

The workplace can hold many potential threats to the health and safety of employees. The task of an occupational hygienist is to identify and neutralise them. In practice, that is something of an oversimplification. More significantly, these specialists are trained to evaluate the extent of the danger posed by each hazard found and identify those workers that may be at risk before determining how best to eliminate or minimise the threat. In South Africa, this is a relatively new profession. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993, employers are required to maintain a safe working environment.


The Occupational Hygienist Must Address Various Types of Hazard

Naturally, the precise nature of any potential dangers in a given workplace will vary according to the type of work undertaken. It is common practice to divide these into four main categories.

1) Physical Hazards

Falls, injuries from machinery, electric shocks and burns are just a few of the common mishaps that occur daily in factories at home and abroad and, in most cases, these are preventable. Sometimes it requires a new pair of eyes to spot a missing handrail or safety guard, faulty wiring, slippery floors or flammable substances stored without due precautions. Repeated, prolonged exposure to loud noise is now the most common cause of deafness and claims for industrial compensation. Other physical hazards include ionising radiation, vibration and extreme temperatures. The experience and technical skills of occupational hygienists enable them to spot what employers and employees often miss.

2) Chemical Hazards

Although the nature of the work is often a clue, it can be far more challenging to recognise chemical threats. While substances like ammonia and chlorine are easily identified by their characteristic odour, carbon dioxide is odourless but equally dangerous. Toxins may occur in gaseous, liquid or solid form and may be present in the air or on work surfaces. The occupational hygienist employs special sampling techniques to collect material for laboratory analysis. The concentrations of identified chemical threats are evaluated against accepted exposure levels to determine if remedial action is necessary.

3) Biological Hazards

Bacteria are omnipresent; fortunately, most are harmless or present in insufficient numbers to pose a danger to humans. Nevertheless, conditions in the working environment often encourage the proliferation of microorganisms. For example, Legionella often accumulates in water pipes and aircon filters and can cause a potentially fatal form of severe pneumonia. Damp areas favour the growth of spore-producing moulds that can also cause respiratory disease. Air and water samples and surface swabs enable the identification and elimination of any potential pathogens detected.

4) Ergonomic Hazards

Workplace dangers are not limited to the factory floor. Even office staff may be at risk. How employees tackle a task can pose as much danger as the contingencies described above. For example, there is a correct way to lift heavy objects that avoids excess strain and injury. When desks and chairs are correctly adjusted, postural problems and fatigue can be minimised, and productivity improved. Although these may seem like minor problems, they result in thousands of lost working days annually.

Retaining the Services of an Occupational Hygienist

IOH Solutions offers a comprehensive health and safety check conducted by experts in this crucial field. For peace of mind, why not book a health risk assessment with a certified occupational hygienist?

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