When an Industrial Hygienist Is Needed

Employers need to have the knowledge and courage to realize when they need to call an IH for help. IHs have very special and specific training related to workplace environmental evaluations and assessments as well as the ability to make recommendations on controlling workplace hazards.

An IH concerned about exposure hazards associated with the workplace must be familiar with the various activities and processes that a specific employer has. The classic approach of recognition, evaluation, and control strategies used by IH applies to all industries. Sometimes, exposures can be attributed to the job. For example, for a worker using a solvent to clean a piece of mechanical equipment, the IH may need to investigate organic vapor exposure, correct personal protective equipment use, surrounding environment, and possibly personal hygiene conditions.

Hazards involving normal work activities can usually be predicted by a trained IH. It is, however, very unpredictable how much airborne exposure a worker is subjected to from a particular source. Many times, the same type of work conducted at one site is much different from an exposure condition at another. Inside exposures will remain more constant than outside, where wind and weather conditions play a major role. For example, asbestos abatement work that is conducted in a controlled atmosphere inside should remain fairly constant if work practices such as negative air filtration are used and surfaces are wetted properly. Conversely, work on an asbestos roof on the outside, even though there is a difference in the type of asbestos, will depend more on weather conditions. Work practices such as location of the worker in relationship to the wind (upstream or downstream) and how intact the shingles are as they are removed also play an important part in overall exposure. The more broken up they are, the more likely that an asbestos exposure will result. Although inside exposures sometimes can vary vastly with the size of an area and individual work practices, it is not usually expected to be that way.

If the airborne exposure is to be determined for a particular job, the IH must be prepared to monitor quickly. The next day may be too late. Concentrations usually need to be high to find time weighted average (TWA) that exceed OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL). More often than not, the construction worker is not conducting the same job for an 8-hour period. Many tasks are usually required to accomplish a day's work, which also makes it difficult to evaluate a particular hazard. A worker welding, cutting, and burning all day on an outside project such as a painted bridge may have no exposure or wind up in the hospital undergoing chelation therapy with a blood lead level in the hundreds. Many variables affect the potential and real exposure levels, such as work habits, weather, and type of paint on the steel, as well as personal protective equipment used.

It is most appropriate to consult an IH when selecting personal protective equipment for a specific use, such as which gloves are best for use with certain chemicals and which respirator should be used for exposure to a specific chemical. This is why the IH is the only one who has the training and experience to determine the risk of exposure, the environmental sampling that is needed, the sampling techniques to use, and the controls that should be in place to prevent further exposure.

Further Readings

Reese, C.D. Accident/Incident Prevention Techniques (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2012.

Reese, C.D. Occupational Health and Safety: A Practical Approach (Third Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

Reese, C.D. and J.V. Eidson. Handbook of OSHA Construction Safety & Health (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2006.

United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Training and Education. OSHA Voluntary Compliance Outreach Program: Instructors Reference Manual. Des Plaines, IL: Department of Labor, 1993.

United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Training and Education. Manual for Trainer Course in OSHA Standards for the General Industry. Des Plaines, IL: Department of Labor, 2001.

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