An Overview of Industrial Hygiene
Industrial hygiene also referred to as occupational hygiene, is defined as anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling health hazards in the workplace. The OSHA Act of 1970 set mandatory occupational safety and health requirements to protect employees from workplace hazards. What steps should an employer take to comply with OSHA? Every workplace should have procedures in place to evaluate hazards and document compliance.
A preliminary survey, or workplace analysis, should be conducted to evaluate what chemical, biological, or physical hazards workers are exposed to. Does material handling generate particulate? Do employees work closely with hazardous chemicals? Does process equipment generate a substantial amount of noise? If there are known or potential hazards, sampling should be conducted to accurately quantify exposure and provide corrective actions, if necessary. Sampling should be conducted by an industrial hygienist; someone with experience in determining potential hazards and conducting environmental studies. How is the data managed? Results must be compared to OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) to determine if any concentrations exceed the regulatory limit. It should be noted that several types of exposure limits exist and each analyte should be evaluated separately to determine what limits are applicable. Time Weighted Average (TWA) refers to concentrations that employees may be exposed to 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) refers to a limit that employees may be continually exposed to for short periods of time. Ceiling Limits (CL) should never be exceeded. Occupational exposure limits are also set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Conference of Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). Employers may choose to abide by these more stringent guidelines if they wish; however, OSHA limits are considered “law”.
Finally, if limits are exceeded, measures should be taken to reduce worker exposure. This can be done by increasing personal protective equipment (PPE), physically limiting the time a worker is exposed to a hazard, modifying ventilation systems, or instituting other engineering controls. Additionally, training should be conducted to ensure employees are aware of exposure hazards and measures they can take to protect themselves in the workplace. As a good practice, a monitoring program should be established to periodically monitor and/or re-monitor for workplace hazards to demonstrate compliance with OSHA and protect against worker compensation claims. If your industrial hygiene program is lacking or you don’t know where to start, give August Mack a call to assist with your program development and sampling needs.