Industrial hygiene isn’t just a good idea for workplaces such as construction sites, manufacturing plants, utilities, and more. It’s actually part of key regulations and standards, including those issued by OSHA. Here’s what to know about making industrial hygiene part of your compliance and risk management routine.
Industry Regulations and Industrial Hygiene
Although industrial hygiene can take many forms depending on the industry and specific company, it must always comply with certain regulations. Most of these are issued and maintained by OSHA, which means they’re likely already part of your workplace safety or compliance approach.
OSHA has some specific language around industrial hygiene, calling it a science and an art. OSHA develops and sets mandatory occupational safety and health standards that require employers to determine the extent of employee exposure relative to physical, chemical, and biological hazards. OSHA provides further guidance to control these hazards to protect workers. A key part of this task is the industrial hygienist–experts trained to recognize hazards and recommend solutions.
Here are a few key things to know about regulations and industrial hygiene:
Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)
OSHA has specific exposure limits to chemicals, contaminants, noise levels, and other health hazards that could put workers at risk. The organization imposes limits called PELs, which help employers understand how much of a certain substance or noise is permissible before becoming a compliance issue.
Employer responsibilities: Companies need to know the PELs (and employee exposure) for each regulated health hazard present in the workplace where potential over-exposure is possible, at a minimum.
OSHA also requires that you regularly evaluate your workplace to identify and address key risks, especially as processes, personnel, and other variables change. The organization says the most effective analyses “include all jobs, operations, and work activities” to create an assessment of potential hazards.
Employer responsibilities: You should have an industrial hygienist perform these evaluations, compile reports, and share data with employees and decision-makers.
Once the evaluation is complete, an industrial hygienist will note the most important issues based on various criteria, including potential risks to health and safety. From there, OSHA recommends four basic types of solutions:
- Engineering controls: These solutions do one of two things: Either they reduce/remove the hazard or they remove the employee from the hazardous situation. This can include everything from identifying and removing toxic chemicals to installing local exhaust ventilation systems.
- Work practice controls: According to OSHA, these controls are built around changing the processes for a particular task. They mostly involve correcting bad habits, establishing stricter protocols, and following proper procedures.
- Administrative controls: To utilize administrative controls (typically), you have to schedule tasks in ways that minimize employee exposure levels or provide training. That could mean shifting employee schedules, reorganizing production procedures, or both.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): OSHA states that when other controls aren’t feasible or to make them more effective, PPE should be used. There are rules around this, too–including selection, employee training, guidance for wearing items properly, and maintaining PPE.
Employer responsibilities: You should know all your options for hazard correction and which steps would be most effective for controlling a given hazard or risk. It’s also important to understand whether you need to document any updates to comply with OSHA regulations.
Tips for Maintaining Industrial Hygiene Compliance
Although OSHA and other regulations are a key part of many workplaces, it’s not always easy to keep up with the specifics–or to build an industrial hygiene program that covers every little detail. Here are a few tips to get you started:
#1: Use Industrial Hygiene Services
Many companies don’t have the time, resources, equipment, or expertise to identify workplace hazards and risks. Comprehensive industrial hygiene services will achieve compliance, safeguard employees against harm, and reduce organizational liability.
#2: Support Employees
Although compliance is tricky enough at an organizational level, it’s even more complex for uninformed or untrained individual workers who may not have the same level of visibility or familiarity with workplace standards. Help employees maintain safe work practices by giving them actionable guidance and establishing rules for their role and environment. In this case, specifics are particularly helpful–as is the reminder that workplace safety habits are built to protect everyone.
#3: Use Multiple Approaches
To make industrial hygiene as effective as possible, don’t limit yourself to any one kind of approach or solution. Instead, utilize everything at your disposal, including:
- Incident investigations.
- Exposure assessments and ongoing workplace monitoring.
- Mitigation controls and PPE.
- Employee onboarding and ongoing training.
- Safety walk-throughs and audits.
Industrial hygiene and industry regulations, including those managed by OSHA, are closely related. To maintain compliance, you’ll need to know how to apply both–which means establishing best practices, training employees, maintaining equipment, and correcting issues.
Need industrial hygiene services? Contact us today for all the support you need.