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The Importance of Industrial Hygiene and Air Quality

Outdated Worker Protection Limits Make Experienced Industrial Hygienists Essential


Industrial Hygiene is not new. It actually dates back centuries to Roman scholars and some of the earliest legislation began with the Chimney-Sweepers Act of 1788 in England. Fast forward to today, many laws have been put in place to protect workers – most notable in the

United States is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA).  However, a main issue is OSHA recognizes that many of its permissible exposure limits (PELs) are outdated and inadequate for ensuring protections for workers’ health. Most of these PELs were issued shortly after Act’s adoption more than 50 years ago and have not been updated since that time. 


So what is Industrial Hygiene? According to OSHA, it has been defined as “that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among the citizens of the community.”


For industrial hygienists, who use environmental monitoring and analytical methods each day, there are two essential goals – identification and elimination or control. First, these key individuals are tasked with identifying risk hazards or stressors which fall into one of five (5) categories:


  1. Environmental

  2. Chemical

  3. Biological

  4. Physical

  5. Ergonomic


Second, these experts take a key role in the elimination or control of these risks using appropriate measures based upon their findings.


IEC seeks to focus on the environmental aspects and specifically, indoor air quality within the workplace. Why? The effects that poor air can have on one’s health, comfort and productivity are profound to put it mildly. Having such a variety of possible indoor and outdoor sources, including airborne chemicals, bacteria, fungi, pollen and dust, the extent may still be too complex to fully understand. Yet, the fact remains such risks need to be assessed and mitigated so building owners, managers, employers, school administrators and occupants can protect themselves and others that surround them.



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