The Nature and Significance of Occupational Hygiene

In all fairness, one could be forgiven for believing that the phrase “occupational hygiene” referred to mundane practices, such as washing one’s hands out of consideration for work colleagues. In practice, personal cleanliness does have direct relevance in this context. However, the description is more relevant to an entirely new science, one with a far more extensive role to play in the day-to-day activities of the working population than regular handwashing.

Occupational Hygiene

The public first learned of this new science following the release of government regulations in their respective countries regarding the health and safety of employees whilst at work. In South Africa, that legislation first appeared in 1993 and has since undergone several necessary amendments. In practice, occupational hygiene focuses on the measures needed to maintain health and safety in the workplace. Although workers are its primary focus, the Occupational Health and Safety Act also addresses the safety of everyone who might need to access the workplace. It even considers those who occupy the external areas immediately surrounding a factory.

While not everyone may be aware of them, the average working environment contains numerous potential hazards that could lead to a staff member becoming ill or injured. The more observant individuals will often notice them and take suitable precautions. But what of the unwary or the less obvious hazards? These are why occupational hygiene is so crucial. For instance, the incidence of hearing loss has probably been increasing since the industrial revolution. But it took two world wars and thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing soldiers to link that increase to the noise of gunfire and bombs. Even worse, it was almost another 50 years before official legislation to protect factory workers from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Deafening noise is just one of several physical hazards that could threaten employees. Radiation, temperature extremes, and vibration are invisible threats. Exposed electrical wiring or missing handrails are also easily overlooked until an occupational hygiene inspection draws attention to them. Chemicals and biological materials account for some of the most severe threats to health and safety. Some toxic compounds like chloroform, ammonia, benzene, and hydrogen sulphide have strong, distinctive odours. By contrast, many others are odourless and detectable only with specialised tests or sensing equipment.

Detecting and identifying biological hazards, such as Legionella in the water supply or E. coli and Salmonella species on work surfaces, clothing, and personnel is a task for someone trained in relevant technologies and their application to occupational hygiene. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 places the onus on employers to ensure their workers are protected from accidental injury and illness by full compliance with its written guidelines. The government also made available the necessary training courses to support the nation’s employers. Many companies have taken advantage of this, sending one or more staff members for training. However, some entrepreneurs seized that opportunity and used it to establish themselves as third-party service providers in this essential field.

One such organisation in South Africa has gained a position of prominence in that field. IOH Solutions has occupational hygiene specialists with all the skills, experience, and resources necessary to ensure your company can comply with the act. We will ensure there are no significant, ongoing hazards that might threaten your workers’ health or safety.