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How do you manage industrial hygiene (IH)? How effective is your IH program, and how would it compare to other organizations? To help you establish a reliable reference point for evaluating the maturity of your own IH program, we’ve launched our new “Industrial Hygiene Program Benchmarking Study.” We surveyed 446 EHS and industrial hygiene (IH) professionals on how they manage some of the key aspects of their IH programs, and we found an interesting range of IH program practices and levels of maturity. Download the study to learn how your IH program stacks up, and what steps you can take to improve.

Download the IH Benchmarking Study Today!   

Industrial Hygiene & Worker Health

Industrial hygiene (IH) is defined by OSHA as the “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.” It’s an inspiring description for one of the more complex and technically oriented disciplines in the field of EHS management, and rightfully so. An effective, well-managed workplace IH program is the first, best line of defense against the potentially life-altering health impacts of worker exposures to chemical and physical hazards.

Unfortunately, when EHS professionals think about workplace risks, there’s a tendency to focus on more immediate threats to worker safety like falls, cuts, burns, motor vehicle injuries, acute exposures to hazardous substances or environments, and other more obvious injury and illness types. Publications from agencies and organizations like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Safety Council (NSC) regularly report statistics on worker injuries and fatalities, as well as the violations, citations and penalties that follow. These kinds of statistics are front-page news for EHS professionals, and it’s understandable why there’s such a focus on incidents in the workplace.  

Sadly, chronic occupational illnesses and diseases receive much less attention. Most are not detected until years after workers have been exposed to toxic chemicals or other physical and chemical stressors. In addition, any data available is accompanied by some degree of uncertainty because many chronic occupational illnesses often are misdiagnosed, difficult to directly attribute to occupational exposure, and poorly tracked. Unlike the BLS and NSC annual statistics on injuries and illnesses in the workplace, there is no national comprehensive surveillance system for chronic occupational illnesses.

Chronic Occupational Illness Statistics

The limited data available suggests that the number and rate of chronic occupational illnesses and associated deaths is far greater than most of us would even imagine. For example, BLS and NSC data shows that in 2021 there were 5,190 work-related fatalities. Now compare this to data from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which estimates that occupational disease is responsible for between 26,000 and 72,000 deaths in the United States every year.1

 Here are some additional chronic occupational illness statistics:

  • Estimates published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) have found that exposure to hazardous substances claims the lives of almost 1 million workers annually. This translates to at least one worker dying every 30 seconds due to occupational chemical exposure.2
  • Cancer is the main cause of work-related death, and more than 200 different substances have been identified as known or probable human carcinogens, with many of these exposures occurring in the workplace. 2
  • ILO data shows in the EU alone, occupational cancer was responsible for 102,500 deaths in 2011 and 106,300 in 2015, and occupational cancer now represents one of the primary causes of work-related deaths globally. 2
  • About 25% of all US workers have been exposed to hazardous noise, with 14% (22 million) exposed during the last year.3
  • Approximately 12% of all US workers report having difficulty hearing, with 16% of noise-exposed workers who were tested diagnosed with a material hearing impairment.3
  • 13% of noise-exposed tested US workers have permanent hearing impairment in both ears.3

Bringing Industrial Hygiene to the Forefront

Even if these estimates are a bit on the high side, the human cost of chronic occupational illnesses – and the failure of employers to prevent them – is truly staggering. As EHS and IH professionals, we must do better. Preventing these illnesses and deaths means developing and maintaining an IH program that is effective as possible at identifying, assessing, and controlling exposure risks, and that also enables EHS and IH professionals to engage people throughout our organizations and build strong support for our IH programs.

Unfortunately, most workplaces’ IH programs are not operating at their full potential because they’re built around spreadsheet-based systems. Spreadsheet software has been around for nearly 40 years at this point, and reliance on these outdated systems has become an increasingly large impediment to the function, communication, and continuous improvement of our IH programs.  At their core, spreadsheets are little more than data entry and storage systems with basic analytics capabilities. They were never intended to serve as an IH program management tool, let alone serve as the technology infrastructure for a proper IH program. They essentially just collect and store raw data.

Spreadsheets also limit another critical element in building effective IH programs—communicating risks and worker health outcomes. The complex and technical nature of IH means there is often confusion or poor understanding outside of IH and EHS circles as to what IH is and why it’s important. Communicating IH program risks, controls, and health outcomes is not always straightforward, and the result of this is a lack of visibility and support for the workplace IH program. As EHS and IH professionals, we need to take a step back and evaluate how we communicate IH program information. What information are we providing to which stakeholders within the organization, especially to management and the C-Suite? Is that information clear and easily understood, and does it provide value to those stakeholders? What are the outcomes of that communication, and does it contribute to broader engagement and support among the organization for your IH program?

If we’re to have any hope of optimizing the effectiveness of our IH programs and maintaining a continuous improvement approach to IH program management, we need to start thinking about the tools we use to manage those programs, and what new technologies and alternatives are emerging to help move our IH programs forward.

Moving IH Program Maturity Forward

Our Industrial Hygiene Program Benchmarking Study provides analysis and discussion of our survey findings to illustrate the pace of IH today, helping you understand the state of your own IH program and, ultimately, how to improve it. We’ll also offer proven best practices and guidance for how to optimize and harmonize key IH program elements to help you eliminate administrative burdens and build a holistic IH program that is simpler to manage and best protects worker health.

VelocityEHS Can Help

The Industrial Hygiene capabilities of the VelocityEHS Health Solution are specifically designed and built by our in-house Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs) to give you an integrated IH program management platform that helps you minimize administrative tasks, maximize your program resources, and better protect workers’ health and safety. If you’re still relying on spreadsheets and wondering how to finally bring your IH program into the 21st century, VelocityEHS gives you the tools and guidance to take that step without missing a beat. Request a demo today and we’ll show you how.

  1. Dying for work: The magnitude of U.S. mortality from selected causes of death associated with occupation. AJIM 2003; 43:461-482
  2. Exposure to hazardous chemicals at work and resulting health impacts: A global review.” ILO 2021
  3. Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance. CDC/NIOSH 2021