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Industrial Hygiene

Industrial Hygiene

OSHA Office of Training and Education

. . . "that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among the citizens of the community."

 
These materials were developed by OSHAs Office of Training and Education and are intended to assist employers, workers, and others as they strive to improve workplace health and safety. While we attempt to thoroughly address specific topics, it is not possible to include discussion of everything necessary to ensure a healthy and safe working environment in a presentation of this nature. Thus, this information must be understood as a tool for addressing workplace hazards, rather than an exhaustive statement of an employers legal obligations, which are defined by statute, regulations, and standards. Likewise, to the extent that this information references practices or procedures that may enhance health or safety, but which are not required by a statute, regulation, or standard, it cannot, and does not, create additional legal obligations. Finally, over time, OSHA may modify rules and interpretations in light of new technology, information, or circumstances; to keep apprised of such developments, or to review information on a wide range of occupational safety and health topics, you can visit OSHAs website at www.osha.gov.


INTRODUCTION

Industrial hygiene has been defined as "that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among the citizens of the community."

Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards.

There has been an awareness of industrial hygiene since antiquity. The environment and its relation to worker health was recognized as early as the fourth century BC when Hippocrates noted lead toxicity in the mining industry. In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, perceived health risks to those working with zinc and sulfur. He devised a face mask made from an animal bladder to protect workers from exposure to dust and lead fumes. In the second century AD, the Greek physician, Galen, accurately described the pathology of lead poisoning and also recognized the hazardous exposures of copper miners to acid mists.

In the Middle Ages, guilds worked at assisting sick workers and their families. In 1556, the German scholar, Agricola, advanced the science of industrial hygiene even further when, in his book De Re Metallica, he described the diseases of miners and prescribed preventive measures. The book included suggestions for mine ventilation and worker protection, discussed mining accidents, and described diseases associated with mining occupations such as silicosis.

Industrial hygiene gained further respectability in 1700 when Bernardo Ramazzini, known as the "father of industrial medicine," published in Italy the first comprehensive book on industrial medicine, De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (The Diseases of Workmen). The book contained accurate descriptions of the occupational diseases of most of the workers of his time. Ramazzini greatly affected the future of industrial hygiene because he asserted that occupational diseases should be studied in the work environment rather than in hospital wards.

Industrial hygiene received another major boost in 1743 when Ulrich Ellenborg published a pamphlet on occupational diseases and injuries among gold miners. Ellenborg also wrote about the toxicity of carbon monoxide, mercury, lead, and nitric acid.

In England in the 18th century, Percival Pott, as a result of his findings on the insidious effects of soot on chimney sweepers, was a major force in getting the British Parliament to pass the Chimney-Sweepers Act of 1788. The passage of the English Factory Acts beginning in 1833 marked the first effective legislative acts in the field of industrial safety. The Acts, however, were intended to provide compensation for accidents rather than to control their causes. Later, various other European nations developed workers' compensation acts, which stimulated the adoption of increased factory safety precautions and the establishment of medical services within industrial plants.

In the early 20th century in the U.S., Dr. Alice Hamilton led efforts to improve industrial hygiene. She observed industrial conditions first hand and startled mine owners, factory managers, and state officials with evidence that there was a correlation between worker illness and exposure to toxins. She also presented definitive proposals for eliminating unhealthful working conditions.

At about the same time, U.S. federal and state agencies began investigating health conditions in industry. In 1908, public awareness of occupationally related diseases stimulated the passage of compensation acts for certain civil employees. States passed the first workers' compensation laws in 1911. And in 1913, the New York Department of Labor and the Ohio Department of Health established the first state industrial hygiene programs. All states enacted such legislation by 1948. In most states, there is some compensation coverage for workers contracting occupational diseases.

The U.S. Congress has passed three landmark pieces of legislation related to safeguarding workers' health: (1) the Metal and Nonmetallic Mines Safety Act of 1966, (2) the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, and (3) the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). Today, nearly every employer is required to implement the elements of an industrial hygiene and safety, occupational health, or hazard communication program and to be responsive to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its regulations.

OSHA AND INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE

Under the OSH 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 to evaluate jobs for potential health hazards. 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 to protect 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.

More than 40 percent of the OSHA compliance officers who inspect America's workplaces are industrial hygienists. Industrial hygienists also play a major role in developing and issuing OSHA standards to protect workers from health hazards associated with toxic chemicals, biological hazards, and harmful physical agents. They also provide technical assistance and support to the agency's national and regional offices. OSHA also employs industrial hygienists who assist in setting up field enforcement procedures, and who issue technical interpretations of OSHA regulations and standards.

Industrial hygienists analyze, identify, and measure workplace hazards or stresses that can cause sickness, impaired health, or significant discomfort in workers through chemical, physical, ergonomic, or biological exposures. Two roles of the OSHA industrial hygienist are to spot those conditions and help eliminate or control them through appropriate measures.

WORKSITE ANALYSIS

A worksite analysis is an essential first step that helps an industrial hygienist determine what jobs and work stations are the sources of potential problems. During the worksite analysis, the industrial hygienist measures and identifies exposures, problem tasks, and risks. The most-effective worksite analyses include all jobs, operations, and work activities. The industrial hygienist inspects, researches, or analyzes how the particular chemicals or physical hazards at that worksite affect worker health. If a situation hazardous to health is discovered, the industrial hygienist recommends the appropriate corrective actions.

RECOGNIZING AND CONTROLLING HAZARDS

Industrial hygienists recognize that engineering, work practice, and administrative controls are the primary means of reducing employee exposure to occupational hazards.

Engineering controls minimize employee exposure by either reducing or removing the hazard at the source or isolating the worker from the hazard. Engineering controls include eliminating toxic chemicals and substituting non-toxic chemicals, enclosing work processes or confining work operations, and the installation of general and local ventilation systems.

Work practice controls alter the manner in which a task is performed. Some fundamental and easily implemented work practice controls include (1) changing existing work practices to follow proper procedures that minimize exposures while operating production and control equipment; (2) inspecting and maintaining process and control equipment on a regular basis; (3) implementing good housekeeping procedures; (4) providing good supervision; and (5) mandating that eating, drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco or gum, and applying cosmetics in regulated areas be prohibited.

Administrative controls include controlling employees' exposure by scheduling production and tasks, or both, in ways that minimize exposure levels. For example, the employer might schedule operations with the highest exposure potential during periods when the fewest employees are present.

When effective work practices or engineering controls are not feasible or while such controls are being instituted, appropriate personal protective equipment must be used. Examples of personal protective equipment are gloves, safety goggles, helmets, safety shoes, protective clothing, and respirators. To be effective, personal protective equipment must be individually selected, properly fitted and periodically refitted; conscientiously and properly worn; regularly maintained; and replaced, as necessary.

EXAMPLES OF JOB HAZARDS

To be effective in recognizing and evaluating on-the-job hazards and recommending controls, industrial hygienists must be familiar with the hazards' characteristics. Potential hazards can include air contaminants, and chemical, biological, physical, and ergonomic hazards.

Air Contaminants

These are commonly classified as either particulate or gas and vapor contaminants. The most common particulate contaminants include dusts, fumes, mists, aerosols, and fibers.

Dusts are solid particles generated by handling, crushing, grinding, colliding, exploding, and heating organic or inorganic materials such as rock, ore, metal, coal, wood, and grain

Fumes are formed when material from a volatilized solid condenses in cool air. In most cases, the solid particles resulting from the condensation react with air to form an oxide.

The term mist is applied to liquid suspended in the atmosphere. Mists are generated by liquids condensing from a vapor back to a liquid or by a liquid being dispersed by splashing or atomizing. Aerosols are also a form of a mist characterized by highly respirable, minute liquid particles.

Fibers are solid particles whose length is several times greater than their diameter, such as asbestos.

Gases are formless fluids that expand to occupy the space or enclosure in which they are confined. They are atomic, diatomic, or molecular in nature as opposed to droplets or particles which are made up of millions of atoms or molecules. Through evaporation, liquids change into vapors and mix with the surrounding atmosphere. Vapors are the volatile form of substances that are normally in a solid or liquid state at room temperature and pressure. Vapors are gases in that true vapors are atomic or molecular in nature.

Chemical Hazards

Harmful chemical compounds in the form of solids, liquids, gases, mists, dusts, fumes, and vapors exert toxic effects by inhalation (breathing), absorption (through direct contact with the skin), or ingestion (eating or drinking). Airborne chemical hazards exist as concentrations of mists, vapors, gases, fumes, or solids. Some are toxic through inhalation and some of them irritate the skin on contact; some can be toxic by absorption through the skin or through ingestion, and some are corrosive to living tissue.

The degree of worker risk from exposure to any given substance depends on the nature and potency of the toxic effects and the magnitude and duration of exposure. Information on the risk to workers from chemical hazards can be obtained from the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard requires be supplied by the manufacturer or importer to the purchaser of all hazardous materials. The MSDS is a summary of the important health, safety, and toxicological information on the chemical or the mixture's ingredients. Other provisions of the Hazard Communication Standard require that all containers of hazardous substances in the workplace have appropriate warning and identification labels.

Biological Hazards

These include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other living organisms that can cause acute and chronic infections by entering the body either directly or through breaks in the skin.

Occupations that deal with plants or animals or their products or with food and food processing may expose workers to biological hazards. Laboratory and medical personnel also can be exposed to biological hazards. Any occupations that result in contact with bodily fluids pose a risk to workers from biological hazards.

In occupations where animals are involved, biological hazards are dealt with by preventing and controlling diseases in the animal population as well as properly caring for and handling infected animals. Also, effective personal hygiene, particularly proper attention to minor cuts and scratches especially on the hands and forearms, helps keep worker risks to a minimum.

In occupations where there is potential exposure to biological hazards, workers should practice proper personal hygiene, particularly hand washing. Hospitals should provide proper ventilation, proper personal protective equipment such as gloves and respirators, adequate infectious waste disposal systems, and appropriate controls including isolation in instances of particularly contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Physical Hazards

These include excessive levels of ionizing and nonionizing electromagnetic radiation, noise, vibration, illumination, and temperature.

In occupations where there is exposure to ionizing radiation, time, distance, and shielding are important tools in ensuring worker safety. Danger from radiation increases with the amount of time one is exposed to it; hence, the shorter the time of exposure the smaller the radiation danger.

Distance also is a valuable tool in controlling exposure to both ionizing and nonionizing radiation. Radiation levels from some sources can be estimated by comparing the squares of the distances between the worker and the source. For example, at a reference point of 10 feet from a source, the radiation is 1/100 of the intensity at 1 foot from the source.

Shielding also is a way to protect against radiation. The greater the protective mass between a radioactive source and the worker, the lower the radiation exposure.

In some instances, however, limiting exposure to or increasing distance from certain forms of nonionizing radiation, such as lasers, is not effective. For example, an exposure to laser radiation that is faster than the blinking of an eye can be hazardous and would require workers to be miles from the laser source before being adequately protected. Shielding workers from this source can be an effective control method.

Noise, another significant physical hazard, can be controlled by various measures. Noise can be reduced by installing equipment and systems that have been engineered, designed, and built to operate quietly; by enclosing or shielding noisy equipment; by making certain that equipment is in good repair and properly maintained with all worn or unbalanced parts replaced; by mounting noisy equipment on special mounts to reduce vibration; and by installing silencers, mufflers, or baffles.

Substituting quiet work methods for noisy ones is another significant way to reduce noise-for example, welding parts rather than riveting them. Also, treating floors, ceilings, and walls with acoustical material can reduce reflected or reverberant noise. In addition, erecting sound barriers at adjacent work stations around noisy operations will reduce worker exposure to noise generated at adjacent work stations.

It is also possible to reduce noise exposure by increasing the distance between the source and the receiver, by isolating workers in acoustical booths, limiting workers' exposure time to noise, and by providing hearing protection. OSHA requires that workers in noisy surroundings be periodically tested as a precaution against hearing loss.

Another physical hazard, radiant heat exposure in factories such as steel mills, can be controlled by installing reflective shields and by providing protective clothing.

Ergonomic Hazards

The science of ergonomics studies and evaluates a full range of tasks including, but not limited to, lifting, holding, pushing, walking, and reaching. Many ergonomic problems result from technological changes such as increased assembly line speeds, adding specialized tasks, and increased repetition; some problems arise from poorly designed job tasks. Any of those conditions can cause ergonomic hazards such as excessive vibration and noise, eye strain, repetitive motion, and heavy lifting problems. Improperly designed tools or work areas also can be ergonomic hazards. Repetitive motions or repeated shocks over prolonged periods of time as in jobs involving sorting, assembling, and data entry can often cause irritation and inflammation of the tendon sheath of the hands and arms, a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Ergonomic hazards are avoided primarily by the effective design of a job or jobsite and by better designed tools or equipment that meet workers' needs in terms of physical environment and job tasks. Through thorough worksite analyses, employers can set up procedures to correct or control ergonomic hazards by using the appropriate engineering controls (e.g., designing or redesigning work stations, lighting, tools, and equipment); teaching correct work practices (e.g., proper lifting methods); employing proper administrative controls (e.g., shifting workers among several different tasks, reducing production demand, and increasing rest breaks); and, if necessary, providing and mandating personal protective equipment. Evaluating working conditions from an ergonomics standpoint involves looking at the total physiological and psychological demands of the job on the worker.

Overall, industrial hygienists point out that the benefits of a well-designed, ergonomic work environment can include increased efficiency, fewer accidents, lower operating costs, and more effective use of personnel.

In sum, industrial hygiene encompasses a broad spectrum of the working environment. Early in its history, OSHA recognized industrial hygiene as an integral part of a healthful work setting. OSHA places a high priority on using industrial hygiene concepts in its health standards and as a tool for effective enforcement of job safety and health regulations. By recognizing and applying the principles of industrial hygiene to the work environment, America's workplaces will become more healthful and safer.