Workplace Solutions Facility safety Safety program management

Industrial hygiene and safety management programs

How do I incorporate industrial hygiene into my facility’s safety management program?

Photo: Columbia Southern University

Responding is Gregory Boothe, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, faculty lead for occupational safety and health, Columbia Southern University, Orange Beach, AL.

When introducing a safety management program, safety practitioners aim to reduce the risks associated with hazards within the workplace, a common component of most employers’ safety programs since the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed.

Safety management programs are designed to identify hazards, evaluate their risks and develop ongoing controls to reduce the risks associated with the hazards to an “acceptable” level. What constitutes an acceptable level of risk may vary greatly from location to location.

One common question that practitioners face when developing these programs is: What is the difference between safety management and health management? The former manages risks associated with safety hazards, while the latter manages risks associated with health hazards. However, many hazards – such as excessive noise – can be classified as both safety and health hazards.

In many cases, safety pros overseeing safety management programs may not adequately address issues that are typically viewed as health hazards, believing they’re the purview of industrial hygienists. An effective safety management program will incorporate health hazards into the overall safety management program.

The first step for incorporating health hazards into the safety management program is to identify all health hazards at the facility. To start the process, conduct an initial review of all Safety Data Sheets for chemicals used at the facility. This step will provide a chance to make sure all chemicals that are being used are identified and SDSs are present. A visual assessment of the operations should be included with the review of the SDSs to determine which compounds are being used for which processes and the quantities that are being used. From this, compile an exhaustive list of health hazards.

The next step is to evaluate the risks associated with the health hazards. The difficulty of evaluating risk also depends on the number and identity of the compounds being used. A decision must be made about who would perform the evaluations. There are validated sampling methods for many of the more common methods that are used in industrial settings. Some of the sampling methods are easy enough to perform that many safety pros can perform the sampling in-house.

However, some sampling methods will require special training and an outside industrial hygienist might be used. Hiring an external pro might prove beneficial when handling chemicals that don’t have validated sampling methods or established occupational exposure limits.

The results from any sampling should be compared with some OELs. The most common OELs are the permissible exposure limit from OSHA, the threshold limit value from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists and the recommended exposure limit from NIOSH. PELs are a good start for comparisons, as they’re legally enforceable. TLVs and RELs are generally more stringent than PELs. As a result, many companies will incorporate those into the safety management program to reduce the risks.

The final step for incorporating industrial hygiene into the safety management program is to identify health risks. Health hazards with the highest risks should be identified and an ongoing evaluation (sampling) schedule should be established. The frequency would be based on the initial risk assessments or, in some cases, requirements from OSHA regulations for ongoing sampling because the results exceed an action level or PEL.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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