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What does an Industrial Hygienist do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An industrial hygienist keeps workplaces, specifically industrial and manufacturing plants, free of health and safety hazards. Unlike an equipment and machinery inspector, she monitors the site's environment. This includes analyzing the quality of the air and water and measuring noise levels to make sure they do not exceed decibel limits. In some locations, radiation levels must also be measured for compliance.

The goal of an industrial hygienist, also called an industrial hygiene chemist, is to prevent health hazards and keep workers healthy. She studies all aspects of the environment and notes both present and potential threats to health. After compiling a list of concerns and recommended remedies, she presents her findings to the operations manager or other person in charge of the physical conditions of the company.

Industrial operations are the most likely to have health risks related to noise pollution generated by heavy machinery and equipment. These types of plants are also prone to having dangerous levels of hazardous materials in the air. These commonly include chemicals, vapors and metal shavings. High levels of fine glass particles and dust are also regularly found in these environments.

Industrial hygienists work with management personnel and labor organizations to resolve health issues. They keep company leaders apprised of local, regional and national standards and regulations and recommend compliance alternatives. To increase employee awareness, an industrial hygienist may post hazardous materials communications. She may install informational software on company computers to educate workers and inspire productive discussions of preventive measures.

In addition to exploring physical threats to employee well-being, an industrial hygienist scrutinizes the workplace for stress-producing surroundings. Since some studies have shown stress to cause both mental and physical ailments, these areas can be as toxic to employee health as airborne contaminants. Unfortunately, alleviating stressful environments is much more challenging than cleaning up the air.

Large companies may employ full-time industrial hygienists, but hygienists are more likely to be employed by consulting companies, public health groups or insurance companies. Some of these professionals spend most of their time conducting tests in laboratories on hazardous materials. They also perform regular analyses of the dependability of health-related equipment, such as defibrillators, respirators and pacemakers.

A bachelor’s degree in science or engineering is preferred for this position, although some companies require a master’s degree. Some colleges and universities also offer special programs for this profession. It is also quite common for medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to transition to this career. People working in the fields of toxicology, statistics, chemistry and engineering are also good candidates for positions in industrial hygiene.

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