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What is Occupational Hygiene?

Date: 5th September 2017

Often when people hear the word “hygienist”, their minds immediately jump to teeth cleaning.

Occupational hygiene involves dealing with a variety of workplace hazards, but plaque is typically not one of them!

Occupational hygiene is the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of workplace hazards to prevent occupational illness, injury, and disease. The hazards hygienists focus on are grouped into the following hazard categories:

· Biological (fungi, bacteria, viruses)

· Chemical (metals, solvents, air contaminants)

· Physical (noise, radiation, temperature)

· Ergonomic (repetitive motions, manual handling, vibration)

These hazards can affect an extremely wide variety of industries, including mining, construction, healthcare, aviation, and oil and gas.

Anticipation and Recognition

Anticipation and recognition of hazards present within the workplace is the first step in the effective control of hazards. This can involve site visits and observing tasks to identify where hazards exist.


Once hazards have been identified, evaluation is often required to determine whether there is the potential for a hazardous exposure. Evaluation may involve collecting air monitoring data to determine whether exposure to airborne contaminants exceeds allowable exposure limits, or monitoring noise levels to determine whether workers are at risk of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).


Control measures must be implemented to prevent hazardous exposure from occurring. Controls must be considered following the hierarchy of controls:

1. Elimination

Eliminating the hazard can be the most effective method of risk control. The hazard may be removed from the workplace through design or redesign of the workplace, task, or activity. There is no residual risk when a hazard is truly eliminated.

2. Substitution

Risk can be eliminated or reduced by substituting the hazardous product, process, or material with a less hazardous option.

3. Engineering Controls

Engineering controls can reduce the probability of a hazardous event occurring in certain circumstances by:

· Preventing or isolating exposure to the hazard;

· Reducing the energy available; and

· Providing alternative means of interacting with the hazard.

· Preventing or isolating access to the hazard;

4. Administrative Controls

Administrative controls improve the ability of the worker to interact safely with a product, process, or material that presents a hazardous situation. Administrative controls can:

· Improve the ability to avoid harm;

· Reduce the frequency of exposure to a hazard; and

· Reduce the probability of a hazardous event occurring through controls.

5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE should be used when the previously mentioned controls cannot effectively reduce the risk. PPE includes anything designed to be worn or held by an individual for protection against a hazard and should be used only as a last resort.

Why is occupational hygiene important?

Preventing Occupational Illness and Disease

Occupational hygiene plays a vital role in creating a healthy and safe work environment by controlling hazardous exposures.

Knowledge of hygiene issues and associated health hazards is important in preventing adverse health effects. This can be particularly important for exposures that are not necessarily associated with immediate symptoms, but can have detrimental long-term health effects.

For example, a worker in the construction industry may be exposed to silica while on the job. The worker does not experience any immediate symptoms and does not think their health is being compromised while at work. Years later, the worker experiences difficulty breathing and discovers they have silicosis, an irreversible and debilitating lung disease due to occupational silica exposure. Being aware of the potential exposures associated with your work and the substance specific requirements outlined in WorkSafeBC can prevent such an occurrence in your workplace.

Controlling Costs

A healthy and safe workplace can reduce the number of workers leaving employment due to illnesses, injury, or disease.

Demonstrating compliance with hygiene regulations applicable to your workplace can reduce the possibility of being shut down and/or given a fine or order by a regulator.

Controlling hazardous exposures minimizes the costs associated with workers compensation.

A healthy workforce also tends to be more productive and efficient.

It’s the Law!

As described by WorkSafeBC, “the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation and Part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act contain legal requirements for workplace health and safety that must be met by all workplaces under the inspection jurisdiction of WorkSafeBC. Some sections of the Workers Compensation Act and OHS Regulation have associated policies and guidelines.” This includes occupational hygiene requirements that must be met.

What are some examples of occupational hygiene services that could benefit my organization?

There are a variety of hygiene services that may be beneficial to your workplace. Pacific Safety offers the following:

· Conducting hazardous materials assessments (asbestos and lead)

· Conducting noise surveys

· Writing exposure control plans

· Performing respirator fit-testing (qualitative or quantitative)

· Conducting exposure assessments

· Evaluating effectiveness of controls and providing recommendations

· Conducting ergonomic assessments

…and much more!

If you are interested in discussing hygiene services for your organization, please contact Pacific Safety at or call us at 604-278-3512.

Posted in: Blog