Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities. Health and safety hazards cover a wide range of chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic stressors. Those Scientists, dedicated to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling those hazards are known as Industrial Hygienists. They are professionals dedicated to the well-being of people – at work, at home and in the community.
Although the specific qualifications have evolved, the 3-E’s of Education, Experience and Examination have always served as the foundation to be ABIH-certified in industrial hygiene. Currently, to meet the Education qualification a typical qualified candidate comes from a regionally accredited college or university, with a Bachelor’s Degree in biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, sanitary engineering, physics or an ABET accredited program in industrial hygiene or safety. Other colleges and degrees will be considered by the Board provided there is an emphasis on science, mathematics, engineering, or science-related technology. In addition, the candidate must have academic or continuing education coursework specifically addressing industrial hygiene, toxicology, fundamentals, measurements and controls.
However, academic knowledge alone does not qualify an individual to be a competent Industrial Hygienist; rather, it is the Experience qualification that provides the synergistic ingredient. There is an "art" to applying the technical principles in a manner that provides a reasonable solution for a workplace health issue. Often, this is best obtained through a relationship with a practicing Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), mentors or networks who can teach the nuances in applying the book knowledge in the real world. Further, because the CIH examination covers many broad IH rubrics, the Experience qualification allows time for more exposure to a wide variety of real-world conditions. Therefore, several years of broad experience are necessary before a person may sit for the CIH examination.
Industrial hygienists are occupational health and safety specialists concerned with the maintenance of good health among industrial workers. They attempt to prevent occupational diseases among employees and minimize environmental health hazards in the workplace. They are trained to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and work to alleviate adverse working conditions that may cause illness or impair the health of workers. Such conditions may include excessive noise or the presence of dust, vapors, chemicals, and other potentially hazardous materials common to some industrial settings. Industrial hygienists frequently collect air or water samples and monitor noise levels to determine if any harmful conditions exist. They may also conduct radiological studies to measure radioactivity levels at job sites. The growth of high-technology and service industries has led to stress-related health problems, which industrial hygienists also examine.
Industrial hygienists are employed by large industrial manufacturers, insurance companies, public health agencies, and consulting firms. Some spend most of their time in laboratories, where they analyze air samples, determine the effects of exposure to certain chemicals, or run tests on the reliability of health equipment, such as pacemakers and respirators. These professionals are sometimes called industrial hygiene chemists.
Other hygienists work on-site, where they confer with plant management, labor organizations, government officials, and in some cases environmental groups to establish health and safety programs that satisfy the different needs of all these groups. Industrial hygienists who specialize in pollution problems may help devise systems for the safe storage or disposal of toxic wastes from an industrial plant. Those with backgrounds in engineering may conduct detailed plant surveys to locate and correct work hazards. These professionals are called industrial hygiene engineers.
Industrial hygienists keep companies and labor groups informed of federal, state, and local health requirements. They prepare hazard communication sheets and interactive computer software to ensure that workers understand the dangers of the chemicals and equipment they use. Industrial hygienists are sometimes called on to testify at governmental hearings on product safety, working conditions, and environmental pollution. They also may be asked to represent their employers in workers' compensation hearings.