The New Zealand Occupational Hygiene Society is a network of occupational hygiene professionals who further the practice, professionalism and recognition of the industry in New Zealand. The NZOHS was officially launched in 1994.
At present the Society’s membership is made up of Professional Occupational Hygienists either working for large companies, private consultants, or for Worksafe NZ. The Society has also welcomed into its midst, as Associate Members, a larger number of people who are working in the field of health and safety, but have only a part time interest in Occupational Hygiene.
What is Occupational Hygiene?
Occupational hygienists are involved at the interface of people and their workplaces. They use science and engineering to prevent ill health caused by the work environment specialising in the assessment and control of risks to health from workplace exposure to hazards. Occupational Hygienists help employers and employees to understand these risks and to minimize or eliminate them. The term Occupational Hygiene is generally defined as “the art and science dedicated to the Anticipation, Recognition, Evaluation, Communication and Control of environmental stressors in, or arising from, the work place that may result in injury, illness, impairment, or affect the well-being of workers and members of the community”; and states that “these stressors are normally divided into the categories Biological, Chemical, Physical, Ergonomic and Psychosocial.” Occupational hygiene uses science and engineering to prevent ill health caused by the work environment. It aids employers and employees to understand the risks and helps improve working conditions and working practices.
Who are Occupational Hygienists?
Occupational hygiene practitioners come from varied backgrounds all of whom have chosen to apply their skills to protecting the health of workers. Occupational hygiene is a multidisciplinary science so its practitioners must acquire a broad and solid foundation of knowledge in the following: Toxicology, Chemistry, Physics, Physiology, Maths, Chemical Hazards, Biohazards, Engineering controls and ventilation, Non-engineering controls, Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Thermal stressors, Noise and hearing loss prevention, Health risk analysis, Hazard communication, Ergonomics, Ionising radiation, Non-ionising radiation, Air sampling and instrumentation, Work environments and occupational processes, Community exposure and Management Common to all practitioners is this core of knowledge that can only be described as “occupational hygiene” and a strategic approach to managing health hazards at work.
What does an Occupational Hygienist Do?
Occupational hygienists work to prevent disease and injury arising from the workplace. They may check work environments and processes for health and safety hazards related to Chemical agents (for example, dust, gases, vapours), Physical agents (for example, heat, cold, noise, radiation) and Biological agents (for example viruses, bacteria, moulds). Specific duties and responsibilities may vary considerably from one job to another. In general, however, occupational hygienists:
- observe processes, procedures and operating conditions both inside and outside work sites
- develop strategies for evaluating the work site to determine the degree of risk
- assess potential worker exposure to physical, chemical and biological agents including the collection and analyse of samples
- use direct reading instruments, sampling techniques and other methods to measure levels of physical agents such as light, heat, noise and radiation
- assess/determine airborne exposure of contaminants and compare them to regulatory standards and guidelines and accepted occupational exposure criteria
- evaluate the effectiveness of control strategies implemented to protect against workplace exposures and hazards (for example, personal protective equipment, ventilation systems)
- interpret the results of exposure evaluations and determine risk to human health based on scientific research and recommend ways to control workplace hazards through engineering methods, improved work procedures and protective equipment
- work in multidisciplinary teams to design and implement control measures report and document investigations, audits and conclusions and advise managers and employees about regulations, standards, legal compliance, risk assessment and ways to reduce risk