Industrial Hygiene: Safety Topics - January 2019 - Week 5


Monday, January 28

Industrial Hygiene

When looked at independently, these are two words that don’t seem to go together very well. But the term industrial hygiene is related to what’s also known as Occupational Health; the practice of managing the work place environment that affects the workers’ health and well-being. This branch of public health evaluates and controls hazards in the work place environment, such as chemicals, dust, and noise. This week’s safety briefings will review some of the most common components of a comprehensive industrial health program.


HAZCOM is short for Hazardous Communication. It applies to any employees and contractors who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals. OSHA often refers to this as Right-to-Know. Employees have the right to understand the hazards associated with materials that they work with. There are 5 major components to the HAZCOM standard:

  • A chemical inventory
  • Proper chemical labeling
  • Having Safety Data Sheets (also called SDS) available for reference
  • Training for all employees who interact with chemicals
  • A written HAZCOM program

The HAZCOM program defines criteria for how the training is conducted, when it’s required, and how it’s presented. HAZCOM training should include label interpretation and requirements as well as the sections contained in an SDS. Training is required whenever a new hazard is introduced into the workplace; not necessarily for each new chemical, but each new Hazard, such as flammability or toxicity. Annual refresher training should be provided on where to find SDS, the major information contained in them, and reminders about controls that are in place. New employees should be provided in depth HAZCOM training that is job specific.

HAZCOM training makes sure everyone in the organization is aware of the hazards of the chemicals and materials

Tuesday, January 29

Respiratory Protection

When there are workplace hazards to respiratory health, such as dust, vapor, or gas, employers are required to develop and implement a written respiratory protection plan with work-site specific procedures for use of respiratory PPE.

If it is determined that respirators are REQUIRED for protecting workers, a written respiratory protection plan should be developed that includes:

  • Specific worksite procedures on when protection is to be used
  • The type of NIOSH approved respirator required
  • Training on the proper use, cleaning and maintaining of the respirator
  • Periodic medical evaluations and fit testing for the effective use of a respirator

Workers must be physically able to wear the required respirator without any risk of medical considerations. The restricted air flow from a respirator should not cause any physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or increased heart rate. Workers must be medically cleared to use respirators.

In some cases the employer may not have a work environment that requires respiratory protection because the hazards don’t exceed the determined thresholds. Examples might be nuisance dust as workers sweep the floors or periodic exposure to a particular smell for a short term process. In these cases the employees may opt to voluntarily wear respirators or N95 dust masks as a precaution.

Wednesday, January 30

Hearing Conservation

Manufacturing workplaces can get loud thanks to machinery, tools and equipment. But even outdoor earthmoving vehicles and landscaping power tools can be loud enough to damage hearing. If workplace noise levels exceed OSHA standards, employers must provide hearing protection to employees at no cost. However, any organization that has noise levels that exceed OSHA’s permissible limits should reduce the noise with engineering solutions first. Much like the respiratory hazards, PPE should be the last line of defense against noise hazards as well. PPE such as hearing protection may be a short term solution until more sustainable countermeasures can be implemented.
The noise level threshold set for companies to take action on reducing noise exposure is 85 decibels over an 8-hour time weighted average. This is referred to as the ‘Action Level’. If the noise cannot be reduced through improved engineering solutions, than hearing protection is required. The purpose of a hearing conservation program is to prevent or reduce the progression of noise induced hearing loss. Hearing protection should be the correct type to bring the noise under the threshold, whether that’s ear plugs, ear muffs, or other protection.

Part of the hearing conservation program is annual audiometric testing for employees who are required to wear hearing protection. This is a simple hearing test conducted by a qualified medical provider. Standard deviation is accounted for with aging as a consideration. Any loss beyond the normally accepted age degradation is considered ‘occupational hearing loss’ and could result in an OSHA recordable injury. To be sure the hearing test is accurate, limit exposure to loud noise for 14 hours before the test. This includes noise exposure outside the workplace such as loud music, sporting events, gun fire, auto racing, etc.

Thursday, January 31

Ergonomics involves how the body moves during work. Ergonomic assessments can help us understand workplace conditions that can cause long term health issues. Muscular Skeletal Disorders (MSD’s) account for 1/3 of all occupational injuries.
Ergonomic hazards include anything that involves:
  • excess motion
  • repetitive activities
  • awkward or heavy lifting
  • excess force, vibration, and contact stress
Most general industry operations can easily identify some core business activities that include one or more of these hazards. An ergonomic assessment program should include prioritize ergonomic hazards by risk and develop countermeasure plans to reduce or eliminate the hazards. In addition to the workplace evaluation, employee training should communicate the ergonomic hazards and ensure that employees use any and all controls that have been put in place. Safe lifting and other physical ergonomic principles should also be part of an effective ergonomics program. All employees should identify and report ergonomic concerns to managers so that they can be documented as potential opportunities for improvement. Job Safety Assessments (JSAs) are a tremendous tool to communicate ergonomic awareness.

Friday, February 1

Free Form Friday

Take this day to ask yourself and your organization some important questions:

  1. Can anyone walk into your facility, like a visitor or new employee, and upon encountering a container of chemicals, can they tell if it’s hazardous or not, identify what it is, and easily obtain all the precautionary actions for handling it? Do all employees know how to safely manage their exposure to chemicals?
  2. Do you have any respiratory concerns such as dust, fumes, or gas? Are you certain that the air all employees and contractors breathe at work is safe from hazards?
  3. Are there any noisy processes in your plant? If so, have you been creative enough to look at eliminating or reducing the noise through engineering changes? If you are wearing hearing protection, are you certain that it’s adequate and how do you know hearing is not being compromised?
  4. Have you ever received complaints like: “This is hard!” or “This is heavy and awkward, I need someone or something to help.” Or “My fingers are sore after doing this job all day!” Have you observed anyone grasping at their lower back or other behavior that indicates that they’re in discomfort? Do you have a process for reporting those opportunities for improvement?
  5. Is this workplace safe enough to bring your family into for a day’s work? Would you allow someone you care about to perform any of the activities at your facility, even with the proper training?

If you can’t answer yes, your Industrial Hygiene requires a checkup.

Tags: safety topics , injury prevention , industrial hygiene ,

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