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Queensland and NSW Laboratory discuss occupational hygiene

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article image Occupational hygiene

According to Queensland and NSW Laboratory , occupational hygiene is important in the safety spectrum. Occupational hygiene is the process of anticipation, recognition, evaluation, communication and control of environmental stressors in the workplace that can affect the health and well being of the workforce. Occupational hygienists assist to identify the risk level of occupational exposures to stressors (hazards) and assist in the control of this exposure before disease or harm manifests. Queensland and NSW Laboratory offer tips to assist companies to identify some of the important elements of a hygiene monitoring programme.  

Health hazard identification is the first step to develop an occupational hygiene programme. This process will develop a list of the stressors that the workforce is potentially exposed to. These will be under the categories of biological (legionella), chemical (lead, cyanide), physical (vibration, heat, noise), ergonomic and psychosocial. Health hazard identification consists of a walk through survey to identify the issues and list detail of the potential for harm. The health hazard identification needs to be conducted in the workplace with input from the operational staff.

Qualitative risk assessment is performed to identify the potential exposures that require monitoring. This is a risk management process to establish the priority exposures for further review and uses judgment of the hygienists, engineers, managers and operators. The operational staff should assist with the process as it helps in justification for the survey if an area management have signed off on the process.

Quantitative risk assessment is the process of obtaining data to determine what the actual exposure is in the workplace through scientific data. The companies should conduct the programme in line with accepted standards. For example, the publications simplified monitoring strategies (a guide on how to apply NOHSC’s exposures standards for atmospheric contaminants in the occupational environment) from the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists and a strategy for assessing and managing occupational exposures, third addition from the American industrial hygiene association. The standards assist with deciding what should be sampled, how many samples to take and what the data can mean.

Blanks are important for analysis of samples. The companies should keep 2 blanks for every 10 samples. They should handle the blank exactly the same as a real sample and should not sample with it. This results in obtaining the blank weight which is put into the sampling equipment followed by removing it and having the sample post weighed and analysed with the live samples. The blank provides correction for handling and sampling media background levels of moisture or trace elements.

The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists is an organisation that assists development and networking of occupational hygienists and other professionals. The institute holds an annual conference to present the latest knowledge and issues. The 2009 AIOH conference will feature the theme of ‘Emergency Issues.’

Calibration of equipment is essential and can be the undoing of any hygiene programme. The companies must follow the relevant Australian standard for the type of equipment they have. They need to calibrate equipment pre and post use and send the equipment away for third party calibration as required. The companies must develop a register of all equipment and list due dates for calibrations. These must be backed up by setting reminders in Microsoft outlook.

Records are important any hygiene programme. These must be maintained for long term retention (30 years or more under most legislation.). It is important to ensure that records can be located and identified. Procedures need to be developed for managing samples, sample records and reports. The data sets from many years of sampling can be compared to indicate the trend of a company’s exposures and reports will provide record of decision making that has occurred.

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