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What Is Industrial Hygiene?

Industrial hygiene is the study and application of workplace safety habits in places like manufacturing facilities.
Inspectors have a number of ways to assess a workplace and its hazards.
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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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Industrial hygiene, also known as occupational hygiene, is the study and application of workplace safety habits. The field is quite broad, covering everything from biological to physical to emotional problems among workers. There are several methods used to assess a company’s industrial hygiene, but personal inspections and sampling are the most common. The overall goal is to create a safe and stable workplace that doesn’t overtax any one area of the system.

The first point of importance in this subject is the term itself. In the United States (US) and countries influenced by the US, most people refer to these practices as industrial hygiene. This field focuses heavily on raw material production, factories and manufacturing fields. In other parts of the world, these procedures are called occupational hygiene and have a much broader focus. At the core, the processes are the same, but the view points of the governing bodies differ on priority.

In either case, the main focus of the field is workplace safety. This is broken down into a number of sub-areas. Physical wellbeing governs the safety and comfort of workers as they perform their tasks. Biological processes make sure that the workplace isn’t harmful by keeping destructive agents and illnesses away from workers. Lastly, psychological safeguards prevent emotional damage through methods such and bullying or sexual harassment.

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The most common way of assessing a workplace’s industrial hygiene is through direct observation. With this method, an inspector travels to the workplace and examines the condition of the environment and the condition of the facilities. Through careful examination of the people and the environment, the inspector can find signs of problems before they cause problems. Afterward, the inspector provides a detailed assessment to the company showing the good and bad points of the inspection.

In addition to observation, inspectors have a number of ways to assess a workplace and its hazards. Most inspections involve taking readings with a wide range of diagnostic tools that look for everything from harmful gases to toxins in the water. Often, these tools are tailored to the area being checked. For instance, a coal mine has a much greater need for an explosive gas check than a corporate office.

The third common industrial hygiene investigation technique is sampling. Inspectors will take small samples of air, water and other common substances found in the workplace. These samples will go to a lab for further investigation. The data from these reports will tell the inspectors about the environment over the long term. If harmful materials were removed prior to inspection, they will often leave lingering traces that may be found in the samples.

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