environmental

What is Industrial Hygiene?

Two industrial employees discussing industrial hygiene from VelocityEHS

Everyone knows that when we talk about “hygiene” we’re talking about cleanliness and health, but what does hygiene mean when it’s paired with “industrial”?

Having good hygiene means consistently performing habits and practices to preserve health. The same goes for industrial hygiene - a series of habits to keep a facility and its employees in the best of health, functioning well and safely.

Although, an industrial hygiene program involves much more than making sure the facility is clean.

Industrial hygienists and safety professionals in charge of their workplace’s industrial hygiene program must anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control workplace health hazards. Similar to risk management, industrial hygiene involves anticipating incidents, working to prevent them, and preparing for next steps if an incident does occur.

To keep their facilities truly safe, these professionals are responsible for monitoring:

  • Employee stressors – Chemical (acids, solutions), physical (noise, dust), biological (biohazard waste or possible infections), ergonomic (repetitive body movements) or radiological (radiation) that could negatively impact employee health.
  • Governing regulations – Compliance with regulatory authority standards.
  • Equipment – Fully operational and in good condition.
  • Employees and contractors – Qualified, knowledgeable in their jobs.
  • Employee jobs/tasks - All tasks performed are safe, non-risky actions.
  • Location – Safe and in good condition.

But, many organizations don’t have large industrial hygiene management teams. How can one person or one small team manage all those factors?

With standardized practices and routines that make gathering, testing and analyzing industrial hygiene data simple, easy and efficient.

Like Similar Exposure Groups (SEGs).

An easy way for IH professionals to gather and determine data for a large body of employees is to break the employees into similar exposure groups—profiling employees by their job, location, task, or the equipment they use and assessing the health risks posed to those employees. SEGs allow IH professionals to use data from a small group of employees and apply it to the larger body of employees who also fit into those parameters, saving time and effort, and improving efficiency.

And Qualitative Exposure Assessments (QEAs).

Qualitative exposure assessments are the industrial hygiene world’s way of saying, “assessing risk for industrial hygiene concerns”, like those stressors listed above. QEAs estimate the potential health risks for SEGs and help IH professionals more easily identify SEGs that need additional investigation or monitoring and prioritize them. They are a documentation of risks and allow for a smooth transition of knowledge between safety professionals, as new employees join an industrial hygiene management team.

After successfully developing and utilizing a QEA, IH professionals enter the assessment’s data into a risk matrix, where risks are color-coded from green (low risk rating) to red (high risk rating). This allows everyone in the workplace to easily see each type and level of risk for each SEG.

To develop sampling plans.

After gathering data from QEAs, IH professionals use sampling plans to validate and refine the estimations from QEAs. Like our 7 Steps to Industrial Hygiene Success eBook says, a “sampling plan” is essentially an industrial hygienist's to-do list—the number, type and details of samples needed for each SEG and stressor of concern.

Sampling plans help IH professionals lay out the samples needed throughout the year (most sampling plans are annual), what samples are needed when and for what purposes. Typically, sampling plans begin by noting any regulatory requirement deadlines, and specify the number of samples needed and other deadlines from there. Sampling plans can be adjusted at any time for any (reasonable) reason, like a new regulation or an employee concern.

And partner with the right lab for industrial hygiene data analysis.

Working with labs to analyze industrial hygiene is a great way to improve efficiency and streamline data analysis, but only if you’re working with the right one.

When IH professionals decide which lab to work with, they consider:

  • Capabilities - If the lab has the ability to analyze what is needed; if the lab has the ability to electronically submit chain of custody forms (a process that tracks and details the progression of an IH sample and its analysis)
  • Number of Labs - If multiple labs should be used to cover all analysis needed.
  • Cost
  • On-Staff CIH - If the lab has a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) on-staff for support when needed.
  • Equipment - If the lab has sampling equipment available for use, so that IH professionals don’t need to purchase their own.
  • Location – If the lab is nearby or far away; how the samples will be shipped between the workplace and the lab, and if special conditions are required for some samples.
  • Accreditation – If the lab has the proper accreditations to analyze the stressors found.

To define goals and select the best metrics.

All this industrial hygiene data isn’t gathered for nothing. Why was the data found in the first place? What are you trying to determine from the analyzed data? Industrial Hygiene professionals need to ask themselves important, critical questions to verify the trends and accuracy of the data that they're looking at.

To protect employees in the long-term and continue evolving the industrial hygiene program.

Each of these aspects of an industrial hygiene program, from SEGs to lab analysis, work together in a continuous cycle to improve a program.

You can’t analyze data until you gather it, you can’t gather any data if you don’t know which hazards to investigate, and you won’t know which hazards to investigate unless you determine who you’re trying to protect.

By establishing a routine to monitor and measure workplace safety levels, and making a habit of consistently checking them, you can embed these principles into your workplace as easy habits to keep up with—as easy as brushing your teeth in the morning.

Having a comprehensive, cloud-based industrial hygiene management software like VelocityEHS helps, too.

Our industrial hygiene services make it easier for small teams to track and manage data across all locations and regulatory jurisdictions. Companies with any level of IH expertise can now access the advanced regulatory intelligence needed to drive compliance and achieve the highest standards of workplace health and safety.