October 17, 2003  



Industrial Hygiene: A Primer

By John Shepardson

The SLAC Industrial Hygiene program (IH) is the recognition, evaluation and control of health hazards in the workplace. The industrial hygienists in the Safety and Health Assurance Department (SHA) of ES&H use surveys and on-site evaluation to control health hazards. Industrial hygienists are trained in engineering, physics, chemistry and biology to understand how workplace operations can effect our employees. We use workplace monitoring and analytical methods to assess worker exposure and employ controls on potential health hazards.

Early Industrial Hygiene

In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder discovered health risks for those working with certain minerals. He devised a face mask (made from animal bladder) that protected workers from breathing lead dust. In the second century AD, the Greek physician Galen identified the pathology of lead poisoning and recorded the hazardous exposure of acid mists to miners. In 1556, the German scholar Agricola advanced the science of industrial hygiene even further in his book, De Re Metallica, where he described the diseases of miners and included suggestions for mine ventilation and worker protection. In 1700, Ramazzini, known as the father of industrial medicine, published the first comprehensive book on industrial medicine, De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (The Diseases of Workmen). By suggesting that occupational diseases should be studied in the work environment rather than in hospital wards, Ramazzini defined the modern approach to IH.

Industrial Hygiene Today

Here at SLAC, IH involves the control of health hazards that occur in everyday work. Some examples of hazards controlled by IH include:

• Chemical Hazards: Harmful chemical compounds in the form of solids, liquids, gases, mists, dusts, fumes and vapors can exert toxic effects through inhalation (breathing), absorption (direct contact with the skin) or ingestion (eating or drinking).

• Biological Hazards: Bacteria, viruses, fungi and other living organisms can cause acute and chronic infections by entering the body either directly or through breaks in the skin.

• Physical Hazards: Non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, noise, illumination and temperature extremes can influence worker health.

For industrial hygiene support at SLAC, contact the IH department. You can find contact information on the resource list for ES&H, available on the web at http://www.slac.stanford.edu/esh/resource.pdf.


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Last update Thursday October 16, 2003 by Kathy B