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What is Occupational Hygiene?

Occupational Hygiene is the formal scientific evaluation of hazards and requires professional judgment based on experience and education in determining the potential for hazardous exposure risks in workplace and environmental studies.

Occupational Hygiene is generally defined as the art and science dedicated to the Anticipation, Recognition, Evaluation, Communication and Control of environmental stressors in, or arising from, the work place that may result in injury, illness, impairment, or affect the well-being of workers and members of the community.

These stressors are normally divided into the categories Biological, Chemical, Physical, Ergonomic and Psychosocial.

  • ANTICIPATION – identifying potential hazards in the workplace before they are introduced.
  • RECOGNITION – identifying the potential hazard that a chemical, physical or biological agent or an adverse ergonomic situation poses to health.  These may be of the following forms:

−  Biological: Mould, yeast, bacteria e.g. Legionella.
−  Chemical: Solvents, metals and metal fumes, airborne particles, gases, vapours, mists.
−  Physical: Noise and vibration, thermal stress (excessive heat or cold).
−  Ergonomic: Lifting, stretching, and repetitive motion.
−  Psychosocial: Stress, workload and work organisation.

  • EVALUATION – the extent of exposure to the chemical hazards, physical or biological agents (or adverse ergonomic situation) in the workplace. This often involves measurement of the personal exposure of a worker to the hazard/agent in the workplace, particularly at the relevant interface between the environment and the body, e.g. breathing zone, hearing zone, and assessment of the data in terms of recommended occupational exposure limits (OELs), where such criteria exist.
  • CONTROL – of the chemical, physical or biological agent – or adverse ergonomic situation, by procedural, engineering or other means where the evaluation indicates that this is necessary.

Occupational hygiene therefore focuses essentially on a preventative approach through the minimisation of exposure to chemical, physical and biological agents in the work environment and the adoption of good ergonomic practices.

The term “industrial hygiene” stems traditionally from industries with manufacturing, mining or construction and “occupational hygiene” refers to all types of industries including those above as well as support and financial services industries and refers to “work”, “workplace” and “place of work” in general.