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Occupational Hygiene | Foundations | Workplace Hazards

by Hannah Ray
Occupational Hygiene | Foundations | Workplace Hazards

Occupational safety is based on five principles. Employers should know what these mean. Some occupations are dangerous and can lead to accidents or even death. There is a much lesser awareness of the hazards that are less obvious to workers.

Human Capital Review estimates that absenteeism could cost employers in South Africa as much as R19billion per year. The pandemic is responsible for the rise in absenteeism. However, many of these cases are due to injuries and illnesses that could have been prevented by employers adopting an industrial hygiene program. This option, which is based on the five principles listed below, is available to all employers in South Africa following the publication of the 1993 Occupational Safety and Health Act.

  • AnticipationOne of the most important requirements for Occupational hygienist is the ability to anticipate the potential threats to the health and safety in the workplace. This process involves a survey of the workplace, including its layout, processes, materials, worker behavior, and tasks.
  • Recognition: A vital component of the survey is to identify any potential health hazards. The main focus is on chemical, biological or physical hazards. Poor ventilation could increase the risk of toxic gas or dust inhalation. The survey could also include ergonomics and factors that may negatively impact the mental health of a worker.
  • Evaluation After recognizing and anticipating potential hazards in the workplace, the next step of occupational hygiene is to assess the level of risk they pose to the health and safety of workers. The body can tolerate trace levels of toxic chemicals in air without any short-term or long-term effects. Determining the seriousness of such hazards requires close monitoring with specialised instruments to ensure their concentration does not exceed local occupational limits.

The criteria for determining exposure to physical hazards are the same, including repeated and prolonged exposure to loud noises, as well as the risk of noise-induced loss of hearing (NIHL). It is well known that a single exposure of levels over 85 decibels during an 8-hour work shift can cause irreversible damage to the ears. This condition worsens each time. Workspace and personal monitoring are essential to identify those at risk of NIHL.

  • ControlWorkers must be adequately protected when the risk presented by a particular hazard becomes unacceptable. Adequate control measures are required. These steps could be aimed at reducing or eliminating risk, or if this is not possible, providing personal protective equipment such as earplugs or insulated clothing.
  • ConfirmationThe process does not stop with the implementation control measures. It will take more monitoring to assess their effectiveness, and diligent recording will be required to identify where corrective actions may still be needed.


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