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 anticipation and recognition of health hazards have primacy because they must take place before proper evaluation or control (if needed) can take place. On anticipation or recognition of a health hazard, the industrial hygienist should be able to identify measures necessary for proper evaluation. On completion of the evaluation, the industrial hygienist then is in a position (in consultation with other members of the occupational health and safety team) to recommend and implement controls needed to reduce risks to within tolerable limits. Hazards arising from the workplace include the potential harm that may arise in the community by poorly controlled emissions and such issues as familial exposures from harmful debris taken home on workers' clothing.
ANTICIPATION OF HEALTH HAZARDS IN THE WORKPLACE
The duty to anticipate health hazards in the workplace is a relatively new addition to the industrial hygienist's traditional responsibilities for recognition, evaluation, and control; it is a heavy but necessary burden. Anticipation of health hazards may range from a reasonable expectation to mere speculation, but it implies that the industrial hygienist will understand the nature of changes in the processes, products, environments, and workforces of the workplace and how those changes might affect human health or well-being. Transplanting a successful chemical process from a unionized workplace in the United States or Canada to another country without understanding important cultural factors or the extent of the industrial experience in that country might cause significant risk of harm to the workers in that new country. As another example, changing weekly work schedules from five 8-hour days to three 12-hour days almost certainly will produce dislocation among the workforce because of the psychosocial and physical effects of shift work but also may lead to the danger of chemical intoxication if the chemical exposures are such as to lead to the buildup of excessive body burdens without the usual 16-hour “rest” period.
An important aspect of anticipation is an understanding of past exposures and practices and how that past experience may act to cause injury to those exposed. Such retrospective exposure assessment is, of course, essential to the performance of epidemiologic studies in order to come to a sound understanding of risks associated with occupational experience. The industrial hygienist is the person most likely to be able to perform such a retrospective study.
RECOGNITION OF HEALTH HAZARDS IN THE WORKPLACE
In a workplace where the processes are well established, the recognition of health hazards is the first step in the process that leads to evaluation and control through the identification of materials and ...