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Occupational hygienists – that’s what we are

occupational hygienistsI read something yesterday!

To my great delight, and for the first time in my 31-year career as a Registered Occupational Hygienist (ROH), I felt that some acknowledgement had been given to the profession.

I read an article written by Greg Richey (CIH, CSP, FAIHA) in the USA Industrial Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN), 14 May 2020. The article was called Industrial hygienists are vital players in the war against SARSCOV-2. The article cited :

‘Industrial hygiene may not be a household name, but our knowledge base is exactly what is needed to help win this fight. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) defines the discipline as (emphasis added):

“Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities. Health and safety hazards cover a wide range of chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic stressors. Those dedicated to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling those hazards are known as Industrial Hygienists. They are professionals dedicated to the well-being of people – at work, at home and in the community.”

A major responsibility of Industrial Hygienists (IHs) is to educate both the workforce and management about the hazards in their workplaces. We know how to evaluate hazards and use all the controls available to mitigate risk. For instance:

  • IHs understand the physics of aerosols and how a cough, sneeze or even speech can spread virus-containing droplets through the air, and what it takes to engineer out a hazard using ventilation, filtration and barriers.
  • IHs understand the chemistry of disinfectants and know what is effective at neutralizing the virus and what it takes to effectively decontaminate a person or surface.
  • IHs understand physical means of virus destruction such as heat, cold, ultraviolet light and ionization.
  • IHs routinely measure the quantity of hazardous substance in a workplace and can verify whether cleaning procedures are working to remove virus surface contamination in a given environment.
  • IHs know the ins and outs of personal protective equipment, in particular respiratory protection.
  • IHs know how to devise and educate workers on administrative controls.’

Known as Industrial Hygiene in the USA and as Occupational Hygiene in most other countries, it must be one of the least known and most misunderstood professions.

When asked what I do, most people’s first response is: “Oh! so you deep clean toilets and things?”

On a more serious note the definition of Occupational Hygiene according the International Occupation Hygiene Association (IOHA) is:

‘Occupational Hygiene is the discipline of anticipating, recognising, evaluating and controlling health hazards in the working environment with the objective of protecting worker health and well-being and safeguarding the community at large.’

All of the four steps are crucial in the process of protecting the health of the worker and the members of public and ….. of the environment:

Anticipation and Recognition

The anticipation and recognition of health hazards is essential.

Anticipation requires desktop research by the Occupational Hygienist, prior to entering the workplace, whether it be an office or a chemical manufacturer. The Occupational Hygienist will collect information about published health hazards associated with a particular type of workplace. They will also collect workplace-specific data related to their client. This data will include information such as the location of the facility, number of employees and the processes conducted within the particular workplace.

Recognition of hazards in any occupational activity involves characterization of the workplace by identifying stressors and groups of workers potentially exposed to these stressors. The stressors or hazards might be of chemical, biological or physical origin. This is accomplished by doing an Initial Health Risk Assessment (HRA) and the workers are divided into homogenous exposure groups (HEGs).

A HEG is group of workers who experience stressor exposures similar enough. that evaluating the stressor exposures of any worker in the group provides data useful for predicting exposures to the remaining workers.

The Initial HRA is then compiled and is indicative of the qualitative risks associated with each HEG and the magnitude of the risk – very low, low, moderate, high or very high. The Occupational Hygienist then makes recommendations regarding the extent and type of evaluation that will be done.

  • Evaluation is the actual measurement or monitoring of a workplace in which quantitative magnitude of the risks of each HEG are determined. This monitoring is done using specialized equipment and instrumentation and the stringent adherence to approved methodologies dictated by our national occupational health regulations and promulgated in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993) and associated standards and guidelines.The Initial Risk Assessment is then finalized and includes the quantitative data collected during evaluation. Recommendations are then made by the Occupational Hygienist as to the control measures that should be implemented.
  • Control: An internationally accepted Hierarchy of Controls is strictly adhered to by the Occupational Hygienist, with Personal Protective Equipment being the last resort.

Occupational Hygiene ‘bridges the gap’ between the client’s management, the client’s engineers and the occupational health and medicine practitioners. Medical examinations and testing, and biological monitoring are also included in the Final HRA. The Occupational Hygienist consults with Occupation Medicine Practitioner (a qualified doctor with occupational health specialization) and the medical examinations and testing, and the biological monitoring regimens are decided.

Occupational Hygiene is stringently regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993). The Occupational Hygienist must be registered with the South African Institute of Occupational Hygiene (SAIOH). To become a Register Occupational Hygienist (ROH) is a lengthy process and on an average between your undergraduate degree, the post-graduate studies required and the 5 years of practical experience required, it takes 10 years to attain registration, Like with any profession, a prescribed number of CPD points must be gained per annum for an Occupation Hygienist to remain registered and retain their ability to practice.

The Occupational Hygienist must belong to a legal persona that is accredited with South African National and Accreditation System (SANAS) and then certified as an Approved Inspection Authority (AIA) by the Department of Employment and Labour. If the SANAS accreditation is lost due to non-compliance with ISO 17020, then certification by the Department of Employment and Labour is also lost.

Since 1991, I have been practising as an ROH in an AIA, as one of the founding members and as the Technical Director and now as the Managing Director.

Geozone Environmental (Pty) Ltd is our legal persona and the ROH’s or Geozonians, as we like to call ourselves, have a combined experience of 95 years.

The thought that I want to leave with you today, now that you know what we are and what we do is: “WHAT CAN WE DO FOR YOU?”.

The Geozone ROHs can not only anticipate, recognize and evaluate the health hazards in you work environment and look at the effects of your processes on your neighbours and the surrounding communities, they can greatly assist with CONTROL of the health hazards that potentially or do exist in your work environment. Without appropriate recommendations to CONTROL the health hazards you have in your workplace, the ROH has not done their job.

We can give you SOLUTIONS to CONTROL the specific health hazards in YOUR workplace.

In this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, an RoH can be a tremendous comfort to both management and employees. Geozone doesn’t stop with the Final HRA and solutions to control, we also are an accredited Health and Welfare SETA (HWSETA) company that can fulfil all your training needs.

I hope this will be the first in a series of articles I will write. I would like to share with you, the wonderful world of Occupational Hygiene and how it can benefit both management and worker alike.

“We care so we try a little harder….”

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