Industrial hygiene is a key element in many industries–but naturally, it doesn’t happen on its own. Industrial hygiene programs help keep leaders and employees on the same page in terms of regulations, expectations, responsibilities, and best practices for promoting workplace safety. Here’s what to know and how to create your own industrial hygiene program.
Why An Effective Industrial Hygiene Program Matters
Industrial hygiene is the foundation of many complex OSHA-required programs and ensures safety for everyone in a particular environment, even those with limited or periodic exposure. This topic encompasses complex variables, such as physical, chemical, and biological hazards. Common hazards can include noise, airborne particulates, asbestos, dust, mold, ammonia, silica, welding fumes, incorrectly selected workplace respirators, poorly evaluated confined spaces, etc.
As such, it makes sense that this magnitude of risk can’t be left up to chance; workplaces such as manufacturing plants, construction sites, and industrial operations need clear, actionable data, programs, and oversight to maintain complicated OSHA requirements. Here are just a few benefits of having an industrial hygiene program:
- Visibility: These programs are a way to align and communicate expectations when it comes to workplace safety. They also visibly prove that a company is taking necessary steps to protect its employees.
- Actionable: An industrial hygiene program outlines specific steps for chemical, biological, and physical hazards, exposure, and mitigation that can be helpful if leaders or employees don’t know where to start or what their responsibilities might be.
- Supportive: With subject matter experts in place along with adequate workplace programs, employees know there will always be answers to their industrial hygiene or workplace safety questions. For example, these programs are a helpful resource for new hire training, workplace protection, ongoing program management, employee expectations, and direction for management.
- Protection: Good industrial hygiene habits protect employees physically and mentally; however, those same programs also help keep the company from incurring non-compliance fines.
4 Steps to Create Your Industrial Hygiene Program
A solid industrial hygiene program has four central steps:
#1: Identifying Hazards
Hazards can come in all shapes and sizes depending on the nature of your workplace. A comprehensive workplace assessment and audit of physical, chemical, and biological hazards is necessary. Data gathered during this review will assist in determining a further need for investigation and create the foundations for OSHA required programs. If hazards are not properly identified, employees and the organization can be put at risk. Additionally, without a proper assessment of those hazards, programs such as Hearing Conservation, Personal Protective Equipment, Confined Space, and Respirator Programs cannot be accurately created and executed.
Simply put, the goal for this phase is to identify hazards, no matter what or where they may be.
#2: Assessing Risks
Once you’ve built the framework of hazards in your workplace, you need a way to assess the possible risks. That often means looking beyond the immediate hazard to find the full potential of a particular issue. Risk assessments come in a variety of methods, including evaluation of hazard severity and probability to more sophisticated methods using instrumentation to characterize specific workplace exposures.
For example, ongoing loud noises pose obvious risks, such as exceeding OSHA regulations and other industry limits or jeopardizing employee health and well-being. However, the problems can go much further:
- Worker complaints, near-hit accidents, and worker injury
- Lost production time
- Workplace distraction leading to unsafe work conditions
- Regulatory fines
- Increased Workers Compensation premiums
The key to crafting a solid framework for this phase is consistently thinking beyond fines, minimum regulatory requirements, and immediate health risks. Set yourself up for success by being privy to all potential impacts on your company, employees, financial well-being, and reputation.
#3: Developing Control Measures
The first two steps lead naturally into the third, where you finally outline specific solutions based on risk data. The data may reveal that no actions are necessary or additional controls are required. Mitigation controls involve changes such as workplace process modification, ventilation, barriers, product substitution, personal protective equipment, training, policy, etc. Often subject matter experts can identify cost-effective controls instead of costly workplace modifications. Some OSHA regulations are particularly helpful here, as they often provide clear direction for handling and eliminating risks; other industry and workplace guidance can also help you decide which steps to take in a particular scenario. Just remember that while control measures should be determined on a case-by-case basis, they should always be based on priority–that is, you should implement the most important solutions first to safeguard health and well-being.
#4: Monitoring Program Effectiveness
One final element of an industrial hygiene program is monitoring. It’s up to you to ensure that your plan is functional and effective once it becomes official workplace guidance. You may find that you need to modify wording or processes depending on how your employees use your program–but an industrial hygiene program can and should evolve based on what works best for your company.
Tips for Industrial Hygiene
Once you have your industrial hygiene program in place, use tips like these to keep things running smoothly:
- Find a consultant: If you don’t have the time, resources, or expertise to identify hazards and assess risks, make an industrial hygiene consultant part of your team. This can be an internal expert or a third-party consulting service.
- Stay consistent: Although your approach can be updated, it’s important to remain consistent in enforcing and communicating about that approach.
- Keep documentation: Proof of steps taken according to your industrial hygiene program could potentially be helpful during an audit or OSHA inspection, especially exposure assessments. Keep any official documentation you receive or create.
- Ask for feedback: Employees directly interact with industrial hygiene practices, hazards, risks, and other key variables. Ask how your program impacts their day-to-day work and what you can improve.
In conclusion, industrial hygiene is vital for many industries. An industrial hygiene program creates a framework for identifying and solving problems with efficiency, effectiveness, and organization.
Contact us today for support on your industrial hygiene program.