Recognition of Health Hazards from Work Place

The workplace is a potentially hazardous environment. This fact has been recognized for a long time. With the increased interest in protection of the environment, both internal and external to the plant, the number of alleged threats to man’s health and safety, both as a worker and as a resident of an industrial neighborhood, have multiple.

Hardly a day goes by when one does not open a newspaper and find some new threat to human health and safety that originates within the industrial complex. And with the introduction of new technology occurring as quickly as it does, one should not expect that this situation will improve. Who knows what new chemical will be introduced tomorrow that has long-range, serious, chronic effects upon those who come in contact with it, either as workers or consumers. The governmental order concerning “red dye” is an example of a material that was widely used that has been recognized as a potential health hazard. For every claim concerning the existence of a hazard, there also exist those individuals who are willing to stake their reputations that such a hazard does not exist. As an example, consider the turmoil created by the ban of cyclamates and the existence of some experimental results that would seem to indicate that this ban may have been hastily made and I will conceive. Similar situations exist in the area of the use of nuclear power as an alternative to oil and coal, and the Imitations on the use of DOT as a pesticide. One can quickly see that the issues are not always clear cut and the problems are not necessarily will defined. It is in this tumultuous climate that the industrial hygiene engineer must operate. Perhaps no better reason exists than that presented above for the need for an industrial hygiene engineer to remain objective and systematic in the recognition, evaluation and control of occupational hazards. The true professional must operate as much as possible in the realm of facts. There is no room for emotional ism when considering problems with the potential impact of those in areas such as occupational safety and health.

The occupational aspects of the total field of environmental health may be considered industrial hygiene, which has been defined by the American Industrial Hygiene Association as “the science and art devoted to the recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors and stresses, arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and we I-being, or significant discomfort and inefficiency among workers along with citizens of the community.” Some of the classical communicable diseases have been shown to have a specific agent which gives rise to a specific disease. This is very seldom case with occupationally-caused diseases as the etiology is often quite complex. Many times the situation is such that there are multiple chemical and physical caused factors. Although an infectious agent may have a path gnomonic (disease-specifying) characteristic, there may be no apparent unique relationship to the stressing agent when chronic exposures to chemical or physical factors are involved.

There is usually a short and fairly definite period of time between invasion of the host and the development of the disease with diseases that are caused by living microorganisms. In contrast to such short incubation periods, occupational diseases, in most instances, usually require long periods to develop the observable effects as a result of exposures to physical and chemical agents. These are exceptions, however. The objective of industrial hygiene has been primarily to reduce the incidence and mortality of occupational disease. It is now being called upon to improve the effective quality as weiI as the length of life. Inasmuch as occupational diseases arise from multiple factors having a complex etiology, evaluation is often difficult and, as a consequence, environmental control measures evolve slowly.

Many biological agents are important in the field of occupational health. However, in the overall picture. They are not of as major concern in the area of industrial hygiene as are the various chemical and physical agents. The qualities of these contaminants which are of importance in assessing the effect of the harmful agents to the industrial hygiene engineer are: concentration, level, type of matter and energy, and the length of time that a potentially harmful agent has in which to act on susceptible tissues (of prime importance).

Although this text is directed specifically to industrial hygiene engineering and control. it is necessary to discuss at least briefly the area of recognition and evaluation. It has often been said that recognizing and defining the problem is more than one-half of the job. Obviously, it is very difficult to establish controls for a problem when, in fact, the problem is not recognized and its extent is not known. The first three chapters of this text will emphasize the recognition and evaluation of potential hazards within the industrial environment. Of major concern will be the structuring of procedures for recognizing and evaluating industrial hazards. Little emphasis will be placed on specific equipment that is used. This information can be found elsewhere. The major objective of this material is to provide a logical and systematic method which will ” enable the user to evaluate objectively the problems as they are recognized. With this as a basis, the industrial hygiene engineer can begin to develop methods for control. This is not to say that the industrial hygiene engineer through the use of such an orderly method can solve all the problems concerning the existence or nonexistence of a particular health hazard. However, by using such a logical approach and by remaining objective, the industrial hygiene engineer may be able to act as a stabilizing influence.

An Easy Way to Recognize Hazards

There is no easy way to recognize hazards. We are constantly looking for an easy way out, but in this case we will look in vain. Many methods have been developed that purport to identify hazards. Each of these methods has its advantages and works, but none is easy to implement.

If there is only one general method that is best used to recognize potential hazards in the work environment, it is that of the experience of the observer. If you can remember the first time you walked into an industrial plant operation and looked around, you probably remember the feeling of awe that you experienced. And if you were to be responsible for understanding the operation, you probably felt frustrated with the seemingly impossible scope of the task. If you can reconstruct your feeling when walking into the same industrial plant six months or so later, you can remember that the feeling of helplessness was no longer present. When you looked at the operation, you saw things that you never saw before. The man operating the punch press is not keeping up with the rest of the production. There is a strange noise emanating from one of the grinders that seems to indicate that some major repair will be required. Now it’s easy to recognize problems. Your powers of observation are sharpened through a better understanding of what is going on and what is supposed to go on. Thus, experience has become an easy way to recognize potential problems. However, experience is not the only answer. One can have two kinds of work experience. One can work on a job and have the same experience over and over again; or one can work and have a series of new experiences, each one adding to the knowledge and skill of the individual. It is obvious that the latter is the more desirable type of experience to gain. But in approaching a new problem, one does not always have the benefit of experience to rely on. Certainly many of the problems that were faced in the past have application to the new problem that is currently being faced; however, this has its limitations. You must investigate the problem in some logical manner and attempt to gather data and form conclusions as a result of your investigation.

The above is especially true in the area of health and safety hazards. When the industrial hygiene engineer is walking through a plant and observing the work being performed, the hazards are readily apparent. Depending on his or her experience, certain hazards will be evident. However, many of the problems will be hidden from view. For example, potential health hazards that might exist as a result of the use of a certain chemical compound in the process may not be evident unless the observer has an intimate knowledge of the process and the various chemical reactions that occur. These hazards cannot be noted just by watching the process. The industrial hygiene engineer must review the chemical process flow sheets and use experience as wei I as the experience of others to determine if a potential hazard is present. Once it is determined that a potential hazard exists, the industrial hygiene engineer must then ascertain the extent of the hazard. When making this determination, the industrial hygiene engineer must also consider what other hazards may be present and if too much time is being spent on a particular potential hazard. Other hazards that may be present may go undetected and uncontrolled. Good judgment is then necessary to determine what potential hazards should be investigated in what order and which of the potential hazards present a real hazard that must be controlled within the workplace.

In summary, the industrial hygiene engineer does not have an easy job to recognize potential hazards in the industrial environment. If there is one thing that more than any other will enable the industrial hygiene engineer to do a good job in recognizing potential hazards, it is experience. However, this experience is not all that is required. The industrial hygiene engineer must remain objective and organized in the approach to assure that experience does not lead to unwarranted conclusions concerning a new problem that is faced.