What is Occupational Hygiene?
Occupational hygiene is a profession focused on protection. Our top priority is to ensure that workers return home safely each day without the workplace harming their health. Specifically, occupational hygienists focus on anticipation, recognition, assessment, and control of health risks from exposures to workplace hazards such as toxic gases and vapors, dusts, and fumes along with excessive noise and vibration, extreme temperatures, and more. In addition to the workplace, occupational hygienists use their expertise to address indoor air hazards in homes and buildings along with environmental hazards outdoors.
The work of occupational hygienists is critical to our society. As well-trained scientific professionals, they use their knowledge and judgement along with science and technology to support evidence-based decisions to protect worker’s health and prevent injury and disease.
Today's Challenges and Health Risks
Occupational hygienists have contributed greatly to the reduction and elimination of occupational disease over many decades. But our work continues with a focus on new priority issues such heat stress, ergonomics, ionizing radiation, infectious diseases such as COVID, mould contamination, and psychological stress.
The work of occupational hygienists is not limited to safety accidents and injury prevention. Our work is focused on more long-term health concerns such as lung disease (silicosis, asbestosis, cancer), hearing loss, blood disorders, mould exposures, musculoskeletal disorders, and carcinogens present in workplaces, underground, and ambient air.
In 2019, Lloyd and Gallup, estimated that there were 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million cases of work-related diseases each year. Deaths from workplace hazards were estimated at 651,279 annually. Occupational health and safety injuries and illnesses can be prevented. Occupational hygienists play an important role!
Beyond just recognizing workplace hazards, occupational hygienists focus on controls. Hazard control in a workplace includes engineering design of equipment, selection of non– hazardous or less hazardous substances, work practices that minimize exposures, and protective gear. Most importantly, occupational hygienists play a critical role in making workers aware of possible hazards and training them to take the necessary steps to protect themselves such as with respiratory protection and protective clothing. Finally, workers with special needs such as pregnant workers or those with pre-existing medical conditions, all need to be considered and provided with a workplace that does not impact on their health.
Who benefits from occupational hygiene training?
There are many occupations who can benefit from occupational hygiene training at a basic or more advanced level. Facilities engineers, safety committees, union representatives, occupational nurses and doctors, environmental professionals, and those working as occupational health and safety technicians or professionals have a need for competency development. Many corporations provide some occupational hygiene training to all their employees, contractors, and supply chain members.
What are the Benefits of Occupational Hygiene?
The work of Occupational hygienists benefits workers and industry alike in many ways:
- Improves worker’s health, quality of life and increases life expectancy.
- Reduces the number of people who leave employment early through injury or illness.
- Lowers social and healthcare costs and maximizes worker potential.
- Leads to more efficient working processes with technological improvements and increased productivity.
Occupational hygiene provides a rewarding and challenging career at the technician or professional level. There are many job opportunities in industry, government, consultancy, education, and research. Hygienists end each day knowing they made a difference in the lives and health of workers.