Industrial hygiene 101
A long history of pioneering work
In the fourth century BC, 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.
A second century AD Greek physician, Galen, accurately described the pathology of lead poisoning and also recognized the hazardous exposures of copper miners to acid mists.
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.
In 1700 Italy, Bernardo Ramazzini, known as the “father of industrial medicine,” published 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. In 1743 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 18th century England, 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 in 1833 marked the first effective legislative acts in the field of industrial safety. The Acts 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 their exposure to toxins. She also presented definitive proposals for eliminating unhealthful working conditions. In 1910 Hamilton was appointed to the newly formed Occupational Diseases Commission of Illinois, the first such investigative body in the United States. For next decade she investigated a range of issues for a variety of state and federal health committees.
Her courage and research laid the groundwork for the Occupational Safety and Health Act almost a half-century later. In 1995 her extensive contributions to public health were commemorated by a U.S. Postal Service’s commemorative stamp.
Industrial hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness.
IH work includes the study and mitigation of exposures to:
• Air contaminants - Mists, gases, fibers, vapors;
• Chemical hazards - Harmful chemicals in the form of solids, liquids, mists, vapors, fumes, dust;
• Biological hazards - Bacteria, viruses, fungi, other living organisms;
• Physical hazards - Ionizing and nonionizing radiation, electro magnetic radiation, noise, vibration, illumination, temperature;
• Ergonomics - Lifting, holding, pushing, pulling, walking, reaching, sitting, repetitive motion â€” the physiological demands of a job.
Today’s IH professionals are evolving beyond the field’s traditional roots and contributing to everything to corporate social responsibility to health promotion activities and product stewardship and EHS management systems.
IH work is detective work
Is there a problem or not with workplace exposures? What caused the exposure problem and what can be done about it? The only way to find out what the hazards truly are in your work place is to test for them.
By performing a worksite analysis you’ll get an idea of what to test for (monitoring, sampling, etc). Testing will let you know how much, and what your employees are exposed to, along with any other potential problems.
Just remember your results represent what was found on one given day. Additional testing needs to be performed to qualify your findings.
What you find will also dictate what PPE will be worn, what work practices may be put in place and what engineering changes may be mandated to reduce potential exposure.
Remember, OSHA standards are minimum standards, representing a “floor” so to speak, so take your work beyond OSHA’s standards.
You’ll also have to train your employees on the hazards associated with a particular exposure and what measures will be taken to protect them.
• A company that elects to incorporate an IH program is a company that is going to be around for a long time.
• This type of organization is being proactive by protecting its workers from not only acute health effects, but also chronic health effects.
• IH programs also help protect the bottom line, a company’s reputation, and in today’s world, its brand equity. Not only today but for years down the road.