A Quick Guide to Industrial Hygiene
A business owner’s top priority is to keep their employees healthy and safe. In practice, however, ensuring workplace safety can be difficult. According to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 5000 workers died in on-the-job accidents in 2018, and almost 3 million non-fatal injuries occurred.
Thankfully, strong industrial hygiene can reduce those numbers significantly. A solid chemical safety and industrial hygiene program will reduce workplace risks while giving employees the protection needed to stay safe.
What is Industrial Hygiene?
Industrial hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness. Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards.
The U.S. Congress has passed three landmark pieces of legislation relating to safeguarding workers’ health: (1) the Metal and Nonmetallic Mines Safety Act of 1966, (2) the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, and (3) the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Act). Today, nearly every employer is required to implement the elements of an industrial hygiene and safety, occupational health, or hazard communication program and to be responsive to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Act and its regulations.
What is a Worksite Analysis?
A worksite analysis is an essential first step that helps an industrial hygienist determine what jobs and workstations are the sources of potential problems. During the worksite analysis, the industrial hygienist measures and identifies exposures, problem tasks, and risks. The most effective worksite analyses include all jobs, operations, and work activities. The industrial hygienist inspects, researches, or analyzes how the particular chemicals or physical hazards at that worksite affect worker health. If a situation hazardous to health is discovered, the industrial hygienist recommends the appropriate corrective actions.
Major Job Hazards
To be effective in recognizing and evaluating on-the-job hazards and recommending controls, industrial hygienists must be familiar with the hazards’ characteristics. Major job risks can include air contaminants, and chemical, biological, physical, and ergonomic hazards.
These are commonly classified as either particulate or gas and vapor contaminants. The most common particulate contaminants include dusts, fumes, mists, aerosols, and fibers. Dusts are solid particles that are formed or generated from solid organic or inorganic materials by reducing their size through mechanical processes such as crushing, grinding, drilling, abrading, or blasting.
Fumes are formed when material from a volatilized solid condenses in cool air. In most cases, the solid particles resulting from the condensation react with air to form an oxide.
The term mist is applied to a finely divided liquid suspended in the atmosphere. Mists are generated by liquids condensing from a vapor back to a liquid or by breaking up a liquid into a dispersed state such as by splashing, foaming, or atomizing. Aerosols are also a form of a mist characterized by highly respirable, minute liquid particles.
Fibers are solid particles whose length is several times greater than their diameter.
Gases are formless fluids that expand to occupy the space or enclosure in which they are confined. Examples are welding gases such as acetylene, nitrogen, helium, and argon; and carbon monoxide generated from the operation of internal combustion engines or by its use as a reducing gas in a heat-treating operation. Another example is hydrogen sulfide which is formed wherever there is the decomposition of materials containing sulfur under reducing conditions.
Liquids change into vapors and mix with the surrounding atmosphere through evaporation. Vapors are the volatile form of substances that are normally in a solid or liquid state at room temperature and pressure. Vapors are the gaseous form of substances which are normally in the solid or liquid state at room temperature and pressure. They are formed by evaporation from a liquid or solid and can be found where parts cleaning and painting takes place and where solvents are used.
Harmful chemical compounds in the form of solids, liquids, gases, mists, dusts, fumes, and vapors exert toxic effects by inhalation (breathing), absorption (through direct contact with the skin), or ingestion (eating or drinking). Airborne chemical hazards exist as concentrations of mists, vapors, gases, fumes, or solids. Some are toxic through inhalation and some of them irritate the skin on contact; some can be toxic by absorption through the skin or ingestion, and some are corrosive to living tissue.
The degree of worker risk from exposure to any given substance depends on the nature and potency of the toxic effects and the magnitude and duration of exposure.
These include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other living organisms that can cause acute and chronic infections by entering the body either directly or through breaks in the skin. Occupations that deal with plants or animals or their products or with food and food processing may expose workers to biological hazards. Laboratory and medical personnel also can be exposed to biological hazards. Any occupations that result in contact with bodily fluids pose a risk to workers from biological hazards.
These include excessive levels of ionizing and non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, noise, vibration, illumination, and temperature.
The science of ergonomics studies and evaluates a full range of tasks including, but not limited to, lifting, holding, pushing, walking, and reaching. Many ergonomic problems result from technological changes such as increased assembly line speeds, adding specialized tasks, and increased repetition; some problems arise from poorly designed job tasks. Any of those conditions can cause ergonomic hazards such as excessive vibration and noise, eye strain, repetitive motion, and heavy lifting problems. Improperly designed tools or work areas also can be ergonomic hazards. Repetitive motions or repeated shocks over prolonged periods of time as in jobs involving sorting, assembling, and data entry can often cause irritation and inflammation of the tendon sheath of the hands and arms, a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Industrial hygienists recognize that engineering, work practice, and administrative controls are the primary means of reducing employee exposure to occupational hazards.
Engineering controls minimize employee exposure by either reducing or removing the hazard at the source or isolating the worker from the hazards. Engineering controls include eliminating toxic chemicals and replacing harmful toxic materials with less hazardous ones, enclosing work processes or confining work operations, and installing general and local ventilation systems.
Work practice controls alter how a task is performed. Some fundamental and easily implemented work practice controls include (1) following proper procedures that minimize exposures while operating production and control equipment; (2) inspecting and maintaining process and control equipment regularly; (3) implementing good house-keeping procedures; (4) providing good supervision and (5) mandating that eating, drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco or gum, and applying cosmetics in regulated areas be prohibited.
Administrative controls include controlling employees’ exposure by scheduling production and workers’ tasks, or both, in ways that minimize exposure levels. For example, the employer might schedule operations with the highest exposure potential during periods when the fewest employees are present.
When effective work practices and/or engineering controls are not feasible to achieve the permissible exposure limit, or while such controls are being instituted, and in emergencies, appropriate respiratory equipment must be used. In addition, personal protective equipment such as gloves, safety goggles, helmets, safety shoes, and protective clothing may also be required. To be effective, personal protective equipment must be individually selected, properly fitted, and periodically refitted; conscientiously and properly worn; regularly maintained; and replaced, as necessary.
Effective management of worker safety and health protection is a decisive factor in reducing the extent and severity of work-related injuries and illnesses and their related costs.
Proper industrial hygiene can prevent illness, minimize injury, and save lives. When managers need to improve their companies’ IH, we are proud to offer reliable, workable solutions.
Our industrial hygienists offer testing and sampling, including toxic chemicals consulting, substance sampling, and workplace safety evaluations. We can help facilities of all sizes with routine OSHA compliance, and emergency monitoring services.
Contact an AirQuest consultant to learn more.