Industrial hygiene


 Industrial Hygiene, also known as Occupational Hygiene, is the practice present inside companies and workplaces which dictates employees and workers how to best protect their health and safety from the health hazards present inside the workplace. Industrial hygiene includes the safety measures that employees must always observe and practice, from the moment they step inside the workplace, guidelines and protocols that protect the workplace from possible threats to health and safety of the workers and the necessary course of action should anticipated events that pose greater than normal danger occur and the evaluation of the health dangers. The concept of occupational hygiene and industrial hygiene is similar, they only differ in place where it is used, since industrial hygiene is a term used in mostly US and American countries while the term occupational hygiene is used in UK and neighboring countries (Ridley, Channing, 2003, p. 492).

The term “hygiene” maybe misleading because it usually connotes cleanliness, like washing of hands and dusting off shoes before entering the office or workplace premises. But the truth is industrial hygiene is more than the state of cleanliness of one particular individual. It is the guaranteeing that everyone and everything in the office or workplace is safe. Individuals tasked with attending to the responsibility related to industrial hygiene do a lot of things. For example, they make sure that toxic chemicals present in the workplace is always contained and used properly and within the limits that do not render it harmful; some of them consistently checks individuals  before and after for exposure levels. While others are tasked with making sure dangerous materials are stored or disposed properly, not just in accordance with rules that protect the safety of the employees, but also in accordance with the safety guidance imposed by existing laws in effect in the country that also protects the environment and the people who maybe affected by irresponsible and incorrect management and/or disposal of materials that are dangerous or toxic.

The history of Industrial Hygiene

Even before industrial hygiene was provided with this socially accepted and uniform term, industrial hygiene (at least the concept) was already being observed in the past when industrial or occupational hygiene was not even a consolidated concentration of structured information. It maybe a conscious or unconscious effort to protect one’s self from harm or danger while working, and while it may not be called industrial or occupational hygiene at that time, it closely resembled that. This maybe because the instinct to protect one’s self, to exercise methods of self preservation, is a mindset and an action that is inherent in humans.

Take for example, the farmers; most of them wear wide brimmed hats while tending the farm. These hats that they wear protect their skin from skin cancer and from being sunburnt. The methods may not be complex and does not cover every aspect of threat to health rendering the industrial hygiene methods incomplete. But the actions of pre-industrial hygiene era workers that they do because they feel they should protect themselves from threats to their health are all points that prove that industrial or occupational hygiene is being practiced even before it is a structured discipline that involves critical analysis and thinking as it is today.

The standard understanding of industrial or occupational hygiene began amongst western countries like the United States, as well as the UK. These countries eventually spread this particular approach and mindset as among the important and crucial priorities of employers found all over the world – Asia, Europe, Africa and in progressive and big businesses found in smaller, less developed countries. To make the discipline of industrial or occupational hygiene a very strong pillar in the field of business management and to ensure that there is also consistency, growth and improvement inside the field of industrial or occupational hygiene per se, practitioners of this particular science created groups and organizations so that they can interact with each other, share information and collectively build newer and better methods in the field of industrial or occupational hygiene.

Today, there are several groups and institutions dedicated to consolidating professionals in this particular field. There is the ability to constantly improve knowledge and provide assistance, action or guidance to those who may need it. One of the groups is the International Occupational Hygiene Association. This is an umbrella organization which is composed of different smaller organizations and groups whose members are professionals involved in the practice of industrial hygiene. It was founded in 1987. There are also many different groups found in many different countries. There is the US-based American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists while Brazil has its own group, named Brazilian Association of Occupational Hygienists. Industrial hygienists who are practicing in UK may apply for affiliation or membership with the British Occupational Hygiene Society or simply BOHS, one of the many societies found in Europe. Countries like France, Germany, Italy, Asian countries like Malaysia and Japan, as well as New Zealand and South Africa also have its own industrial hygienists groups (Stellman, 1998, p. 1074).

There are also professional journals that publish articles that are of interest in the field of industrial hygiene, which includes the US-based journal named Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, as well as the British-based journal named Annals of Occupational Hygiene. These are written and managed by professionals, who are not just practicing industrial and occupational hygiene but are also a specialist in a particular field earned through merit of the bachelor course background, usually in the field of science. “The occupational hygienist is most likely to be found in the manufacturing sector, and in common with the safety practitioner, often comes from a background in a profession such as chemistry and engineering (Ross, 2008, p. 210).”

But just like any other aspect of business management and employee protection systems and methods, industrial and occupational hygiene was also characterized by problems that it encountered that somewhat undermined the science and discipline of occupational and industrial hygiene and challenged the existing methods, systems and ways. The society can come up with a better way to better protect the employees, especially if even with the practice of industrial and occupational hygiene there are still cases of employees succumbing to health problems and are falling victims to the threats in life, limb and health found in the workplace. “Unfortunately, history shows situations where occupational hygiene risks have not been well managed: for instance, exposure to crocidolite (blue) asbestos during mining operations in Western Australia resulting in death from mesothelioma, a highly aggressive cancer of the lung pleura. What about the effects of stonemasons’ exposure to crystalline silica, excessive noise at concerts, vibration in heavy vehicles or exposure to mercury from broken thermometers in hospitals or formaldehyde in newly refurbished office buildings (Tranter, 2004, p. 1)?”

Even today, there are still reviews as well as criticisms and analysis-results that point to the inadequacy of industrial and occupational hygiene, pointing only to one important point: that there is still a very serious need for development not just of the implementation of the existing methods but also the development of the science and discipline itself so that it is more effective. “Audit programs and other onsite management and professional reviews point out that occupational hygiene programs in business operations are not always adequate in quality and content (Jones, Hosein, Swalm, 1990, p. 1).”

Today, industrial hygiene may be a source of new important and useful information, but the truth is there is still much that industrial hygiene as a practice can learn and develop to better serve the people. There is still room not just for improvement but for new knowledge that industrial hygiene as a discipline can unlock, information which can perhaps let individuals live a safer life, at home and at the workplace. “As awareness of the importance of minimising occupational health and safety risk continues to grow amongst Australian employers, so too does the science of occupational hygiene (Tranter, 2004, p. 1).”

The purpose of Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene, in a general sense, has one specific purpose – to provide information that can stop, prevent or remedy the problems involved in the presence of real health risk upon an employee while working inside a designated workplace. “Occupational hygiene is aimed at reducing the probability that workers’ health will be affected by work (Tranter, 2004, p. 1).”

But there are different and more specific purposes for which industrial hygiene proves very necessary and very useful, and this requires very diverse and different, specific types of hygienists since “occupational hygiene cover such wide fields that no specialist can be expected to have a complete mastery of them (Clerc, 1985, p. 80).” The purpose of industrial hygiene is the accomplishment of a goal that is very closely similar in different workplaces – ensuring the health and safety of the employee. But to be able to achieve the purpose for which industrial hygiene was created and conceptualized, different companies take different approaches, usually depending on the characteristics and features of work and the workplace for a particular company.

Because the discipline of industrial hygiene has grown over the years and has amassed a large volume of information pertaining to industrial hygiene, the company needs to pick which among the systems and protocols of industrial hygiene they should use, opting for course of action that is suitable in the company’s particular type of business and the operation that is involved in it. To be able to serve the purpose for which industrial hygiene was created, the concept laid out different important approaches for different scenarios that require the action of industrial hygiene specialists.

There are differences between each and every threat and each and every workplace and workplace condition, and individuals need to distinguish what is the purpose exactly of industrial or occupational hygiene in their particular field, as well as follow the standard steps in industrial and occupational hygiene. “The first stage in the practice of good occupational hygiene is to recognise the potential or manifest hazard (Ridley, Channing, 2003, p. 426).”

Another important purpose of the science and discipline of industrial or occupational hygiene is to provide an avenue wherein researchers and studies can be made so that previously undetected threats can be identified and validated. New protective paraphernalia like materials for wearing, materials for disinfection and for protection from contamination from unseen objects that poses threat to health, storage systems, cleaning systems and impact management and reduction apparatus and other related new items are developed, tested and validated for efficiency and ability to stave off the effects of health threats inside the workplace. Because of the creation of the science and discipline of industrial or occupational hygiene, it became possible to identify a group of individuals who can focus on workplace threats to health and have a group of people work on identifying other workplace threats as well as develop ways, means and methods to counter such threats.

The impact of Industrial Hygiene principles since the inception of Industrial Hygiene programs

The principles of industrial hygiene and the related practices have impacted the modern world greatly. One of the most significant impact of industrial hygiene and its principles is the ability now of specialists, through a structured program and procedure, to study work situations and determine the probability of the presence of health risks to which the employee is in danger of being exposed to, and consequently allowing modern day business and work practices to integrate in the system ways and means so that health risks are avoided, while those who are already affected provided with the suitable treatment. Because of the introduction of the principles of industrial hygiene, the world now is cognizant about the presence of particular health threats previously unknown to man, as well as the sources of health hazards which individuals should avoid or be protected from the ill-effects of.

Because of the presence of industrial and occupational hygiene, the discipline and paradigm in employee safety was radically changed. Employers now are aware of the fact that each particular type of workplace provides a particular set of health risks to which the employees and workers are exposed to. Employers are also more conscious about the fact that there are specific regulations and standards by which they should abide in order for them to guarantee the safety of the employees who are working inside the workplace where the threat to health and life is present. This change is largely the impact and effect of the implementation of industrial hygiene principles and the creation of industrial or occupation hygiene programs.

The workplace is now much safer compared to the situation inside the workplace when industrial hygiene was not yet around. Today, the society has information that could help them. For the employers, they have the information on what can threaten the life and health of the employees, as well as the possible guide and standard on how to protect the employees from these identified threats and risks. While for the employee, they now have the information on what can possibly harm them and the knowledge of how serious and grave these threats are, especially those that gradually develops and worsen over time like exposure to asbestos. If the employee thinks that his or her welfare is not being attended to by the employer, the employee can use the information made possible by the science of industrial or occupational hygiene to ask for the assistance of the legal system to interfere so that the situation is improved and the risk removed from the workplace by having the employees protected from threats, risks and potential harm.


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Markowitz, G. and Rosner, D. (1991). Deadly Dust: Silicosis and the Politics of

Occupational Disease in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton University Press.

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