The Principles and Common Applications of Industrial Hygiene

Known alternatively as occupational health and either occupational or industrial hygiene, the choice of noun in the latter cases might be seen as a little misleading, as it tends to create the impression that the main focus of this science is cleanliness. In practice, while ensuring their clients’ workplaces are kept clean does form a part of its mission, the combined aims of the science are considerably more far-reaching. In broad terms, the practitioners of this discipline, which began to take shape during the late 1930s in the United States, are responsible for recognising potential hazards to the health and safety of both those in the workplace and those who live or work in the surrounding community, and suggesting appropriate measures with which to manage those hazards.

Some companies have qualified staff for this purpose, while others appoint third-party specialists to manage their industrial hygiene requirements. The first step in the process is to carry out an in-depth inspection of the working environment with an aim to pinpoint or anticipate anything that might pose a threat of illness or injury to employees. These potential risks are commonly divided into five individual categories. In addition to the more obvious chemical, biological, and physical hazards, it has also become a fairly common practice for inspections to include checks for possible ergonomic and psychosocial stressors.

Detection procedures in use include atmospheric and surface sampling and testing for the presence of chemical or biological agents that might prove harmful if inhaled, touched, or discharged into the external environment, as well as measurements of ionising and non-ionising radiation and ambient noise levels. There might also be an assessment of ergonomic risks, such as repetitive stress injuries and postural problems.

Once all of the workplace risks have been identified, the next task of an industrial hygiene consultant is to make recommendations as to how those risks can best be eliminated or, at least, minimised. In the case of chemical hazards, for example, it may not always be possible to eliminate them entirely, but only to ensure that their levels remain within the occupational exposure limits set by national safety authorities and deemed by them to pose no hazard to health. Once advised of all risks, the responsibility of ensuring that preventative measures are implemented rests with the employer. Often, the company that performed the workplace evaluation is also qualified to implement its recommendations and will be retained to do so.

In South Africa, an industrial hygiene company must have suitable accreditation in order to undertake workplace inspections and should also be approved by the Department of Labour as an inspection authority in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993. These stipulations provide employers with the assurance that their evaluation will be undertaken by qualified and experienced occupational health professionals.

Founded in 2003, the SANAS-accredited company, IOH Solutions, has since become a trusted authority in this field, and has an extensive client portfolio that includes some of the largest companies on the African continent. Passionate about industrial hygiene and its role in ensuring the health and safety of employees, the company is known for affordable, cost-effective, and often innovative solutions, fully compliant with all relevant governing legislation that set it apart from its rivals.