The Industrial Hygienist
Under the Act, OSHA develops and sets mandatory occupational safety and health requirements applicable to the more than 6 million workplaces in the U.S. OSHA relies on, among many others, industrial hygienists, or “IHs,” to evaluate jobs for potential health hazards. More than 40% of OSHA’s compliance officers are IHs.
Developing and setting mandatory occupational safety and health standards involves determining the extent of employee exposure to hazards and deciding what is needed to control these hazards, thereby protecting the workers.
Industrial hygienists are trained to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and recommend controls for environmental and physical hazards that can affect the health and well-being of workers.
Important IH responsibilities include:
- Identifying, measuring and analyzing workplace health hazards and exposures (chemical, physical, biological, ergonomic) that can cause sickness, impaired health, or significant discomfort.
- Recommending hazard control strategies to eliminate/reduce hazards and employee exposure to hazards.
The primary organization concerned with industrial hygiene is the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). AIHA is a nonprofit organization devoted to achieving and maintaining the highest professional standards for its members. More than half of the 10,000 members are certified industrial hygienists (CIHs), and many hold other professional designations. AIHA administers comprehensive education programs that keep occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) professionals current in the field of industrial hygiene. For more information open the AIHA Fact Sheet.
The goal of an IH is to keep workers, their families, and the community healthy and safe. They play a vital part in ensuring that federal, state, and local laws and regulations are followed in the work environment. According to the AIHA, typical roles of an industrial hygienist include:
- Investigating and examining the workplace for hazards and potential dangers
- Making recommendations on improving the safety of workers and the surrounding community
- Conducting scientific research to provide data on possible harmful conditions in the workplace
- Developing techniques to anticipate and control potentially dangerous situations in the workplace and the community
- Training and educating the community about job-related risks
- Advising government officials and participating in the development of regulations to ensure the health and safety of workers and their families
- Ensuring that workers are properly following health and safety procedures
Industrial Hygiene Focus Areas
The AIHA describes the various areas of interest that IHs place a focus. Industrial Hygienists work with issues including:
- Indoor air quality (sick building syndrome, second-hand tobacco smoke)
- Evaluating and controlling environmental lead exposure
- Emergency response planning and community right-to-know
- Occupational disease (AIDS in the workplace, tuberculosis, silicosis)
- Potentially hazardous agents such as asbestos, pesticides, and radon gas
- Cumulative Trauma Disorders (repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Radiation (electromagnetic fields, microwaves)
- Reproductive health hazards in the workplace
- Setting limits on exposure to chemical and physical agents
- Detection and control of potential occupational hazards such as noise, radiation, and illumination
- Hazardous waste management