Prevention is better than cure. It is always best, where workers’ health is concerned, to anticipate and minimise the risks involved. This requires occupational hygiene.
Occupational hygiene is the science of the anticipation, recognition and control of hazards arising in, and from the workplace, which could impair the health and well-being of workers.
Alternatively, it is simply a science for preventing the occurrence or continuation of a disease.
It also takes into account the possible impact of industrial processes on the immediate environment.
Agents which pose health hazards in the work environment include airborne contaminants, non-airborne chemicals, physical agents such as heat, noise, biological agents and ergonomic factors such as inappropriate lifting procedures and working postures.
The primary goal of occupational hygiene is the implementation of appropriate hazard prevention and control measures in the working environment.
Occupational hygiene uses strict and rigorous scientific methodologies and often requires qualified and experienced professionals to accurately determine and quantify hygiene risks in the workplace.
Occupational hygiene has aspects that are both preventative, in that its goal is to prevent industrial diseases and risk management in that it seeks safe systems or methods that can be applied in the workplace to minimise the risk of occupational diseases.
The goals of occupational hygiene include the protection and promotion of the worker’s health and the protection of a safe and sustainable environment.
The ideal approach to occupational hygiene includes, but is not limited to:
- Hazard and operability studies (hazops) at the feasibility study phase of a project.
- Proper design, with adequate layout and appropriate control technology, including safe handling and disposal of effluents resulting from an industrial process;
- Procedures and guidelines for training staff on the correct operation, safety and health, maintenance of equipment and emergency preparedness and response.
- Occupational hygiene audits are necessary to:
- Anticipate the health hazards that may result from work processes and accordingly advise on best practices.
- Recognise and understand in the work environment the occurrence of chemical, physical and biological agents and other stressors and their interactions with other factors which may affect the health and wellbeing of workers.
- Understand the possible pathways and effects of agents into the human body and the environment.
- Assess worker’s exposure to potentially harmful agents and factors and evaluate the results.
- Evaluate work processes and methods and their potential to cause harm and define mitigatory measures.
- Evaluate adherence and compliance to applicable laws.
The following legal instruments to monitor compliance to set standards are in use:, the Pneumoconiosis Act (Chapter 15:09 of 1996), The Factories and Works (General) Regulations RGN No. 263 of 1976 and Statutory Instrument 68 of 1990.
When serious hazards are obvious, corrective action is recommended even before quantitative evaluations are carried out.
Examples of obvious hazards in need of action without the necessity of prior environmental sampling are electroplating or painting carried out in an unventilated, small room or using a jackhammer or sandblasting equipment with no environmental controls or protective equipment.
Compliance with legislation should provide the minimum requirement in the protection of the workers’ health and the environment.
NSSA complements voluntary adherence to the law with enforcement programmes that include inspections at any reasonable time.