Industrial hygiene is the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of factors arising in or from the workplace that may cause discomfort, sickness or impaired health/wellbeing among workers. This session at WCI’s 2018 Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference explored three topics related to industrial hygiene and the steps that a risk manager can take to create a healthier work environment for employees.
- Gregory J. McKenna, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc.
- Paul E. Spector, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Director, Sunshine ERC, University of South Florida
- Jean Peltier, Risk Manager, Tropicana
- Rene R. Salazar, PhD, CIH, Assistant Professor, College of Public Health, University of South Florida
- Edward Demmi, MD, Concentra
There are three classes of exposure agents that affect workplace wellbeing – chemical, biological and physical.
Biological agents include bacteria, molds, viruses, pollens and dangers. There are three pathways of exposure – inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact. Testing is difficult for biological agents because there are no established standardized collection or interpretation methods and no criteria limits. There is no real way to assess biological agents. Instead, risk managers have to use a common-sense approach. For instance, if you find dampness, you can assume mold will follow, so that is something to address, however, the thousands of germs on each employee’s computer mouse is not life threatening.
Ergonomics is the science of adapting workstations, tools, equipment and job techniques to be compatible with human anatomy and physiology to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorder injuries due to ergonomic stressors. Generally, jobs that require workers to use repetitive motion, excessive force, awkward positions or that demand employees to use equipment that vibrates are most likely to pose ergonomic hazards. Risk managers must assess posture, force and frequency to try to combat these risks.
The social environment poses many risks to workers as well. Social agents can include a spectrum of elements from physical violence to psychological mistreatment. This can come from all levels – supervisors, peers, subordinates or customers. Incident rates show that occupation matters and exposure increases specifically in first responder and healthcare settings. Trauma can have many effects, including post-traumatic stress, job dissatisfaction, poor physical health, poor performance, employee misbehavior and bad organizational reputation. Organizations need to promote respectful behavior from the top down, creating a model of caring behavior throughout the company. This supportive climate helps to mitigate this risk.