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It is unknown how many illnesses are caused or aggravated by workplace hazards across the globe, but even an outdated estimate from the World Health Organization suggests that between about 50 and 150 million new cases of occupational disease occur annually, and the International Labour Organization estimates that 2 million die from these illnesses each year. In 2015, in the United States, nearly 150,000 workplace illnesses were reported in private industry alone. This is likely an undercount as occupational illness is rarely correctly identified as work-related. Figure 40–1 shows the breakdown of these illnesses by type.

Figure 40–1.

The number and rate (IR)** of workplace illnesses, private industry, 2015, BLS*. (Source:

Industrial hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injuries or illness. Industrial hygiene and safety disciplines certainly overlap; however, generally speaking, industrial hygiene tends to focus on preventing occupational illness whereas safety tends to focus on preventing injury. Traditionally, this means that industrial hygienists focus on hazards such as exposure to chemicals, noise, heat and cold, radiation, biological hazards, and ergonomics.

Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering controls, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards. Hazards arising from the workplace include the potential harm to the community from poorly controlled emissions and such issues as exposures to household members from contamination taken home on workers’ clothing.


The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) issues the Certified Industrial Hygiene (CIH) title in the United States. The sanctioning body for similar certifications in the United Kingdom is the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), and there are others in other countries. These certifications are common job requirements in industry and government and require continuing education to maintain them.


Anticipation of health hazards may range from a reasonable expectation to mere speculation. This concept 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. For example, installation of a new piece of equipment or process will likely introduce new or additional hazards. Industrial hygienists should be involved in all process changes from the design stage to ensure that hazards are eliminated, minimized, and controlled using the hierarchy of controls. As another example, changing weekly work schedules from five 8-hour days to three 12-hour days almost certainly will impact workers. Along with the psychosocial and physical effects of shiftwork, there may be danger of chemical intoxication if the chemical exposures lead to excessive body buildup without the usual 16-hour “rest” period.

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