Industrial hygiene: 7 ways to keep workers safe and healthy

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Health hazards in the workplace, like noise, heat, dust, unsafe machines, radiation, and hazardous chemicals, can all add to occupational diseases and increase the risk of other health issues. 

Industries are responsible for employee safety and overall health, from warehouse workers to operators and supervisors. As an employer, keeping your workers safe should be your top priority and requires an understanding of industrial hygiene. 

Industrial hygiene, also called occupational hygiene, refers to the science of controlling harmful workplace conditions to protect workers from getting injured or sick. It involves identifying, assessing, and adjusting for hazards associated with the workplace to help employees stay healthy and safe. It often encompasses the monitoring and analysis of the workplace to identify the degree of exposure to hygiene hazards. Industrial hygiene may also require engineering solutions and controls to alleviate those hazards. 

Occupational hygiene prevents your employees from various types of illness and injuries, including respiratory conditions such as asbestosis, pneumonia, and bronchitis; skin diseases such as eczema, dermatitis, and blisters; nonfatal diseases like gastrointestinal and lung problems, poisoning, hearing loss, and repetitive stress injuries. 

Here are some ways employers or managers can keep their workers healthy. 

1-  Include an industrial hygienist on your team

Industrial hygienists are professionals specially trained to assess industrial safety concerns and search for solutions to problems. It is important for every industry manager or employer to must have an industrial hygienist on their team. It would be best to hire a professional with an MSPH degree in industrial hygiene as they possess expertise in predicting, analyzing, and preempting workplace health risks 

Once the hygienist recommends a course of action to solve any potential issues, ensuring its implementation is the responsibility of a company’s employer/management.

2- Identify hazards

One of the important steps employers must take to keep their employees safe is to recognize the potential stressors or hazards that put workers at risk. Managers should be able to work effectively with industrial hygiene professionals to identify what changes are needed to enhance overall safety and health. 

For example, workers could have higher exposure if their duty is in an area with limited ventilation or if the processes generate plenty of dust. 

3- Minimize Workers’ Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals 

From fumes and specks of dust to liquids, chemical hazards can take several forms and be inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed by workers. Some harmful chemicals include gasoline, benzene, asbestos, arsenic, and mercury. Some substances cause no harm when inhaled or ingested in small doses; however, other chemicals, such as asbestos, can even lead to life-threatening conditions. Asbestos, if inhaled or swallowed continuously, can become a threat to a worker’s life. Exposure to asbestos shows no immediate symptoms but leads to adverse effects later in life.

Most hazardous chemicals in large doses can affect a company’s workers if no proper precautions are taken. Employers must maintain ventilation, provide precautionary equipment, and maintain equipment and machinery to prevent breakdowns and leaks. 

4- Control Ergonomic Hazards

Ergonomic hazards refer to hazards related to poor task-performing techniques and postures in the workplace. Repeated tasks, such as pushing, holding, lifting, and even continuous walking, can cause ergonomic hazards because the movements cause physical damage, specifically when performed wrong. 

Activities like performing repetitive motions and even focusing on a fixed space or a computer screen can pose ergonomic problems.

Company or industry employers can control these hazards in various ways. 

  • Training

Managers can offer training to employees to educate them about proper and correct techniques for activities, such as pulling, reaching, and lifting. They can also train workers on when to take breaks to minimize the risk of injury. 

  • Administrative practices

Administrators can rotate workers among tasks to help control various ergonomic risks. These rotations can ensure that the muscles of one employee don’t get strained through a single repetitive task. 

  • Workplace design

Employers can design job sites with best practices of ergonomics in mind. Offices should have adjustable, ergonomic chairs, keyboards, and other things. Moreover, keeping commonly needed products at waist level is recommended to minimize excessive reaching and bending. 

  • Tools 

Facilities can also offer their workers equipment to lessen the physical strain. These may include mechanical loaders, lifters, or hand carts that reduce some burden of product handling.  

5- Maintain Workplace Temperature

Extremely low and high temperatures can pose harm to employees. Prolonged low-temperature exposure can cause hyperthermia. If the workplace environment is too cold, allow your employees to wear warm clothing and instruct them to take short breaks in warmer temperatures. 

On the other hand, if temperatures are high, employees are vulnerable to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which is a medical emergency, and may require prompt attention. Let your workers slowly adapt to the hot environment (acclimatization), and advise them to drink water frequently. 

6- Ensure Providing Protection to Workers Against Radiation

Radiation hazards occur in workplaces dealing with equipment like lasers and x-ray machines and in the defense, nuclear, oil and gas, and aviation industries. 

The two types of radiation, ionizing and non-ionizing, can pose health risks for workers. Non-ionizing radiation, such as laser and UV radiation, can cause safety concerns like burns. UV radiation is especially troublesome for outdoor workers. However, ionizing radiation, typically found in healthcare facilities (X-rays) and nuclear reactors, is comparatively more harmful and may damage cells, leading to long-term health conditions, including cancer. 

Companies should try to limit radiation exposure as much as possible. Protective shields, such as concrete or lead material, can protect workers from radiation exposure. 

7- Help Control Biological risks

Living organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi, can enter the human body and cause acute and chronic diseases. Individuals who work in laboratories and hospitals, or those who deal with plants or animals, are at higher risk for biological hazards. Any industry in which a worker may be exposed to animal or human bodily fluids is in danger of biological contamination.   

Higher authorities must instruct employees to follow proper personal hygiene, including hand washing. They should provide their workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respirators and gloves. In the case of highly infectious illnesses, proper waste disposal systems, sufficient ventilation, and isolation protocols are also crucial.  

Conclusion 

Workplace health risks, such as hazardous chemicals, dust, heat, and radiation, can cause serious health conditions to workers. Industrial hygienists help industries recognize, evaluate, communicate, and control health hazards in the workplace that may cause any impairment, disease, injury, or otherwise impact their employees’ well-being. Employers can help their workers stay healthy and safe in several ways, some of which were mentioned above. Remember, while at work, their safety and health are your responsibility. 

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