During the last few decades, the role of the safety professional has evolved to include the responsibility for programs outside of traditional safety. At one time, safety professionals simply performed safety duties; industrial hygienists did industrial hygiene; occupational nurses and physicians took care of medical needs; environmental professionals handled environmental issues; and security personnel took care of security. Today, any of these functions may be performed by a safety professional or more accurately a safety, health, security and environmental professional.
Of all of these areas, the most elusive seems to be the integration of industrial hygiene into a comprehensive safety, health and environmental program. A balanced industrial hygiene program contains three main components - a process for health hazard assessments, an industrial hygiene plan and medical surveillance. The integration of the industrial hygiene program into the comprehensive safety, health and environmental program requires processes for checks and balances between all areas.
To create a balanced industrial hygiene program, a health hazard assessment of the work area or job task should be completed first. A health hazard assessment, in concept, is only different from a job safety or job hazard analysis in that it addresses the health issues rather than safety issues around a particular work area or job task. Each work area or job task is evaluated for the potential exposures in three areas - chemical, biological, or physical exposures. A health hazard assessment is the most comprehensive way to determine potential exposures within a workforce. Not only will help to assess where potential exposures could occur but also to what degree that exposure may exist.
Preparation to perform a health hazard assessment should include putting together a list of job asks or work areas to be evaluated, a list of employees that perform each job task or those who work in each of the areas and an evaluation of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) of the site to look for chemicals that are known to be hazardous to the health of the employees. Additional documents to be reviewed should include the facility emergency action plan, which should outline where large quantities of chemicals or agents are located, and injury or illness reports for past exposures or potential exposure incidents. Additionally, reviewing current job safety/hazard analyses may already reveal areas of concern.
Once an initial paper assessment has been performed the next step should be to evaluate the tasks or areas by observation of the use of any chemicals, biological agents or physical exposures. Discussion with each of the employees in these tasks/areas can be extremely beneficial. Many times employees that have had signs or symptoms of exposures do not report them because they were mild and may have been confused for a non-occupationally related illness such as the flu or other common ailment.