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What is Occupational Hygiene?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2016
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Occupational hygiene, also known as industrial hygiene in the United States, is a method by which health hazards in the work environment are detected and managed. It is a practice that is considered to be both an art and a science, which covers a wide range of disciplines and concerns. The overall goal of occupational hygiene is to ensure the continued safety of workers as they perform their duties. It is pursued in accordance with five basic actions: anticipation, recognition, evaluation, communication, and control.

By anticipating potential health risks, good occupational hygiene can ward off potential issues before they become problems. Recognizing an existing problem is the first step in creating a safer environment. Proper evaluation of the problem helps in the development of an effective plan to lessen risk. Communication with all relevant professionals helps to both reach a solution and to ensure that risk is understood and avoided when possible. The final action, control, helps to ensure the greatest possible adherence to good occupational hygiene and a safe work environment.

The primary factors that are typically evaluated in the practice of good occupational hygiene are ergonomic, physical, psychosocial, chemical, and biological. These are crucial elements in the physical and emotional well-being of employees and are vital to the ongoing success of an organization overall. They help to ensure a safe, healthy work environment that will function with ideal productivity and at low risk to employees and the facilities in which they work.

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Some of the hazards that good occupational hygiene may uncover include asbestos, lead, and airborne particles which are dangerous to breathe. Other high risk factors include equipment or work-space configurations that are not ergonomically safe, or real and perceived dangers that affect the mental well-being of workers. These risks are investigated with the help of scientific and engineering principles. Once the risks are discovered, they are typically controlled and eliminated when possible, and all affected workers are educated as to possible risk factors and how to avoid them.

Occupational hygiene is often led by a designated contract or staff employee. As the job requires a strong understanding of several disciplines, professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds work as occupational hygienists. Scientists, including biologists and physicists, commonly work in occupational hygiene. Medical professionals, such as nurses and doctors, may also work in the field. Some occupational hygienists have a background in engineering.

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