It is, of course, not unusual for workers to become ill. They catch colds and flu. They injure themselves playing sport and, from time to time, they eat things that disagree with them. All of these maladies are the result of activities conducted outside of the working environment and, as such, they are an inconvenience to employers, but are beyond their control. In the workplace, however, things are different, and employers have a responsibility to protect workers from occupational health hazards and to do so through the application of industrial hygiene principles.
There is strict legislation in place that obliges employers to identify the presence of any hazards in the working environment; to evaluate the extent of the risk each of these might pose and to implement any steps deemed necessary to eliminate that risk or reduce it to within acceptable limits. These, in fact, are the fundamentals of occupational health and hygiene practice and should normally be undertaken by an appropriately qualified expert in this highly specialised field.
While there can be no doubt that cleanliness in the workplace does serve to minimise the risk of staff contracting minor ailments, such as colds and tummy bugs, the implications inherent in the phrase “industrial hygiene” are considerably more far-reaching. In the past, it was mainly the repeated occurrence of certain illnesses among workers that led to their cause becoming identified. Today, all potential causes are proactively sought, so as to prevent ill-health rather than seeing staff in need of treatment for work-related ailments.
The hazards investigated by occupational health and hygiene specialists come in a variety of forms, and some are more subtle than others. Although the main focus tends to be on physical, chemical, and biological risks, in latter years, ergonomic and psychosocial factors have also begun receiving attention. In essence, any factor within the working environment that might have the potential to adversely affect the wellbeing of employees should be seen as a factor that needs to be managed.
As a part of its services to an employer, the first step for an occupational health and hygiene company will be to conduct a survey of each of the various work areas with an aim of identifying any possible hazards. Among the physical hazards are loud noise, vibration, and extremes of temperature, while chemical threats are manifold and could be found on clothing, hard surfaces, in water, and in the air. Biological hazards in the form of microorganisms can be equally widespread, making a thorough survey, including laboratory tests, absolutely essential.
Once all potential hazards have been identified, the next task for an occupational health and hygiene team is to evaluate the potential risks posed by each of these and the effectiveness of any existing countermeasures that may be in place. Where the latter may be seen as inadequate, it will then be the team’s responsibility to propose more effective measures and, possibly, even to assist the client with the implementation process.
Most significantly, occupational health and hygiene inspections are not a one-off remedy, but need to be repeated at agreed intervals to ensure that workers remain protected and employers will not be faced with industrial compensation claims. Workers are your most valuable asset. Talk to IOH Solutions about protecting yours.