Occupational hygienists are responsible for identifying, assessing and controlling health hazards in the workplace. They understand how chemical, physical and biological agents may affect the health of the workforce, and in turn, the health of the business.
Workplace hazards can be:
- chemical – dusts, vapours;
- physical – heat, light, noise, radiation;
- ergonomic – posture, motion;
- biological – bacteria, viruses;
- psychosocial – stress, violence, bullying.
Occupational hygienists specialise in controlling health risks in practical and cost-effective ways by assessing and resolving practical problems in a wide range of settings, including factories, hospitals, offices and building sites. They concentrate on the short and long-term effects on health arising from both acute and chronic exposure to hazards, and enable organisations to respond effectively to legislative requirements.
The practice of occupational hygiene has contributed significantly to the promotion of health in the workplace.
Typical work activities
Work activities vary between specialist areas and employers, but may include:
- undertaking workplace surveys and evaluating situations in the workplace;
- assessing risks to health arising from many different factors, such as chemicals, noise, and poor lighting or ventilation;
- accurately measuring and sampling levels of exposure, often through precise use of specialist equipment;
- accurately recording facts or details of procedures in the workplace;
- eliminating or significantly reducing risk by facilitating organisational change and by selecting and designing relevant facilities;
- finding cost-effective solutions to risks to health in workplaces of all types, large and small;
- recommending remedies or control methods;
- compiling data, writing reports, and presenting report findings to clients;
- liaising with a wide range of people, including employers and employees, in the process of evaluating workplaces;
- considering all options of control, such as ventilation, containment, and personal protective equipment;
- deciding on or devising the most appropriate solution for specific situations;
- providing clear and accurate information on complex health and safety issues;
- training organisation staff on health and safety issues, such as asbestos and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) awareness;
- gaining the confidence and cooperation of the workforce;
- persuading company management to develop effective hazard controls when required;
- writing guidance information on health and safety;
- working as part of a team to meet health and safety objectives;
- keeping up to date with scientific and legal developments;
- providing expert witness services;
- liaising with outside bodies, such as Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) .
Salary and conditions
- Occupational hygienists employed by The National Health Service (NHS) , who may also be known as health and safety officers or health and safety advisers, start at Agenda for Change Pay Rates Band 5-6 for adviser roles (£21,176 – £34,189) or Band 7 for manager roles (£30,460 – £40,157).
- Salaries vary according to employer type and location. Some employers may provide additional benefits, such as a company car, health insurance and pension schemes.
- Working hours are typically 9am to 5.30pm, possibly with some extra hours. Weekend and evening work may be required occasionally. Consultancy work on serious accident investigations may involve unpredictable and irregular hours.
- The role has practical as well as purely scientific aspects and involves adapting to different types of working environments and liaising with a wide variety of people.
- Self-employment and freelance work as a consultant are common for experienced occupational hygienists. Specialisation is usually required. Companies are increasingly hiring consultants rather than employing in-house occupational hygienists.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK, with opportunities in most large towns and cities. However, this is a small profession overall.
- The range of fields in which it is possible to work is broadening due to increased legislation and growing recognition of factors that impact on staff health, such as stress at work.
- Travel within a working day is common, as occupational hygienists need to visit clients’ sites to investigate situations in the workplace.
- Overnight absence from home for site visits is possible but this is more likely for those responsible for more than one site or those involved in consultancy work.
- Overseas travel is unlikely, except for an in-house hygienist within a multinational company.
Salary figures are intended as a guide only.
Employers and vacancy sources
Typical employers include:
- large industrial companies, such as steel, oil, chemical, car or food manufacturers;
- occupational hygiene consultancies;
- environmental monitoring companies;
- government agencies;
- academic institutions;
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
- Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI)
- The National Health Service (NHS)
Jobs have been created as a result of new health regulations. In addition, future hazards and problems must be pre-empted and the risks reduced, using the continually improving and diverse methods in occupational hygiene. Modern working environments have increased in complexity, and risks include electromagnetic fields, radiation, working hours/shift work, psychosocial hazards and chemical risks.
Much occupational hygiene-related activity in organisations is now being undertaken by other professionals, including doctors, occupational health practitioners, occupational health nurses, safety officers and chemists, and many companies have significantly cut back their employment of in-house occupational hygienists. This means that entry routes for graduates have been reduced. However, for those with adequate experience in the field, there are increasing opportunities for working on a consultancy basis, providing support to a range of organisations.
Consultants may specialise in providing services for a particular sector, such as the construction or foundry industries, or offer support to a wide range of organisations. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often require the support of occupational hygiene professionals on a consultancy basis. Hygienists are employed by consultancies in fields such as engineering and environmental advice, as well as those specialising in health and safety.
A list of consultants is available online in the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) Directory of Occupational Hygiene Consultants .
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