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Protecting Employees with Industrial Hygiene

Industrial Hygiene Assessments

Industrial hygiene is more than just hand washing; it’s the science for evaluating and controlling workplace stressors or contaminants. While hand washing is just one control used to prevent exposure to workplace contaminants, there are many others used to prevent exposures to keep employees safe and healthy.

We frequently receive calls from facilities that want to introduce a new chemical to their process. At this point, an employer should assess employee exposures. When new chemicals are introduced into the workplace, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) provide the information about the hazards, properties, and handling of the chemical. In many cases, the SDSs may recommend respiratory protection, which could prompt a supervisor to provide this protection to prevent any adverse health effects. Although the supervisor may have the best intentions, in many cases, respiratory protection may not be necessary and might only need to be used when engineering controls are not feasible. An industrial hygiene assessment can be used to determine what specific protections are needed and can also assist in determining engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE), in that order, as necessary.

One type of assessment that should be performed is a qualitative industrial hygiene assessment. Qualitative industrial hygiene assessments are used to evaluate potential risk to employees from workplace stressors such as radiation, noise, vibration, heat, cold, chemical contaminants or biological pathogens. A qualitative assessment typically includes employee interviews, a document and process review and will look at chemicals used, the various processes performed, building layout or equipment, specifications on hazard controls and the equipment itself. Based on this type of assessment, the processes or areas of a facility can be ranked according to the risk or potential for employee exposure and the hazards associated with the various chemicals. Qualitative assessments do not require any exposure monitoring; however, they are used to identify workplace stressors and to determine if monitoring should be performed to verify potential personal exposures.

A quantitative industrial hygiene assessment uses exposure monitoring to determine if exposures are acceptable. This assessment may be performed for physical hazards such as noise, radiation, hot and cold temperatures.  Exposure monitoring is also used to determine workplace exposures to air contaminants. The analytical data received during a quantitative assessment is compared to exposure limits to determine if the employee exposures are acceptable or not. Additionally, this data can be used to determine the need for engineering controls and PPE. 

The personal or area exposure monitoring is performed using a variety of methods. For physical hazards such as temperature and humidity, a direct reading meter is typically used, and the data is either logged manually or data logged in the instrument. Chemical exposure monitoring is usually collected with pre- and post-calibrated pumps set to a specific flow rate and chemical-specific sampling media, or, if you are lucky, some analytes can be sampled using a badge. Personal noise assessments are performed with a noise dosimeter (dose meter) that logs the noise levels over a set amount of time (typically 8 hours). In addition to noise dosimetry, a sound pressure level (SPL) survey can conducted with a sound level meter to determine SPLs at various locations throughout the facility. The SPL information can be used to determine areas where hearing protection may be needed. 

Engineering Controls

These assessments are not always the final step, however. As mentioned, engineering controls are the best method to control exposures, followed by administrative controls, and finally PPE. If the hazard can be engineered to an acceptable level (or eliminated), the human component to safety can be removed. If you are left to rely on employees remembering to wear their PPE, and wear it correctly, there is still much room left for potential errors. Engineering controls will effectively put a barrier between the worker and the hazard, which could like look like ventilation systems for paint booths. Please read our blog, Minimizing Worker Exposures with Engineering Controls, for more information.

These assessments and associated monitoring and surveys of workplace potential hazards are related to protection of your employees within the confines of the workplace. However, keep in mind that one is also required to – at a minimum – evaluate the protection of human health and the environment outside of the workplace. This is where issues such as air permitting, and compliance become of importance to your facility’s operations, goals, and employee health.

Join us with several of our in-house experts, Sally Perry, Conan Read and Nick Foreman on May 27, 2021 for a live webinar, Navigating the Invisible World of Air: Exposure Assessments to Permitting. We will discuss the various types of environmental permitting and compliance and industrial hygiene related air projects that might apply to your facility and what type of information you will want to have at your disposal for each.

Nick Foreman Group Manager, Permitting & Compliance – Safety and IH Services


Sally Perry Group Manager, Permitting & Compliance


Conan Reed Project Scientist, Permitting & Compliance – Safety and IH Services