What is Occupational Hygiene?

Health at work is primarily achieved by identifying those factors at work which could contribute to ill-health, assessing the risks associated with them and then taking steps to reduce those risks. Workplaces have many visible and hidden hazards. The key categories are:

• Chemical (dusts and vapours)
• Physical (heat, light, noise, radiation, posture and motion)
• Biological (bacteria and viruses etc.)
• Psychological (stress, violence and bullying)

Occupational hygiene anticipates, recognises, evaluates and controls these occupational health hazards. The primary objectives are to protect the well being of workers and to safeguard the community at large.

Occupational hygiene covers a wide range of skills and practitioners and these may have a variety of titles including:

• Occupational hygienist
• Ergonomist
• Occupational physician
• Acoustician
• Occupational health nurse
• Physicist
• Health and safety advisor
• Chemist
• Environmental scientist
• Biologist
• Epidemiologist
• Psychologist
• Toxicologist
• Engineer

The essence of occupational hygiene is teamwork, bringing together the right blend of skills to resolve each issue. The practices of occupational hygiene is crucial in establishing workplace conditions which improve well being and therefore raise employee confidence, generating industrial co-operation and increased efficiency.

Occupational health is primarily a prevention-orientated activity, involved in risk assessment, risk management and pro-active strategies aimed at promoting the health of the working population. Therefore the range of skills needed to identify, accurately assess and devise strategies to control workplace hazards, including physical, chemical, biological or psycho-social hazards, and promote the health of the working population is enormous.

No one professional group has all of the necessary skills to achieve this goal and so co-operation between professionals is required. Occupational health is not simply about identifying and treating individuals who have become ill it is about taking all of the steps that can be taken to prevent cases of work related ill health occurring. In some cases the work of the occupational hygienist, engineer and safety consultant may be more effective in tackling a workplace health problem than the occupational health nurse or physician. The multi-professional occupational health team can draw on a wide range of professional experience and areas of expertise when developing strategies, which are effective in protecting and promoting the health of the working population.