The Nature and Significance of Occupational Hygiene
While efforts to keep work areas clean and regular hand washing are admirable practices, they represent only a minor component of the overall task of establishing and maintaining acceptable standards of occupational hygiene in the workplace. In practice, the two-word term refers to a relatively new science devoted to identifying and evaluating potential workplace hazards and methods to eliminate or minimise them.
For most of human history, the health and safety of paid workers received little or no attention from employers. While, without a doubt, many employees were justifiably resentful, the need to provide for their families led them to accept that the risk of illnesses and injuries at work was just part of the job. Nevertheless, history also records some exceptions. One of the earliest recorded examples of organised occupational hygiene refers to mineworkers in ancient Rome given masks to minimise dust inhalation.
Efforts to mitigate the risks faced by the majority of workers remained largely ignored. However, the strategic importance of the mining industry to the economies of mineral-producing nations, such as South Africa, spurred many governments to pay more attention to miners’ working conditions. Spurred, perhaps, by the economic importance of industry as a whole, it was not long before further government legislation could safeguard all employees’ health and safety. An act published in 1993 marked the birth of occupational hygiene and provided guidelines intended to minimise the risk of work-related illness and injury.
South Africa’s Occupational Health and Safety Act also introduced training courses for those wishing to play an active role in implementing its recommendations. It is relatively easy for workers and employees to recognise the more obvious workplace hazards and even institute effective measures to eliminate them or, at least, minimise their risk. However, many of the more severe threats can be much harder to identify. Spotting them and assessing the level of risk they could pose to unwary employees are crucial elements of occupational hygiene practice.
Anyone who may wish to practice this discipline must first undergo training and gain the necessary certification. The emphasis will be on developing the requisite technical skills and knowledge of the health and safety hazards frequently encountered in various industries. In the field, the incumbent will apply that knowledge and skill to conduct a workplace assessment. The first step will be to identify any physical, chemical, or biological hazards that might put any company’s employees at risk.
While many physical threats are readily visible, occupational hygiene technicians must employ specialised equipment and testing techniques to complete their investigations. Typically, their task might include monitoring ambient noise and radiation levels, sampling the air for dust and toxic chemicals, or sampling the water supply for pathogenic microorganisms, such as Legionella. The air and water samples will generally need to undergo analysis in a suitably equipped laboratory.
After evaluating the degree of risk posed by each identified hazard, the specialist will suggest countermeasures where they appear necessary. An occupational hygiene assessment offers a means to ensure personnel are safe, inspiring staff loyalty, safeguarding productivity, and limiting the risk of costly compensation claims. When you book a workplace assessment with the experts at IOH Solutions, your company and staff will enjoy all of these valuable benefits.