In modern American workplaces, the experts who ensure safe and healthy conditions for employees are known as industrial hygienists.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) definition of industrial hygiene is “that science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among the citizens of the community.”
Active in fields as diverse as healthcare, manufacturing, academia, government, and oil and gas, industrial hygienists focus on anticipating workplace health and safety concerns and developing strategies to prevent them.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), a membership organization for the profession, calls industrial hygienists “the guardians of workplace safety.”
“Industrial hygienists also unite management, workers, and all segments of a company behind the common goal of health and safety,” the AIHA says.
A Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety such as the program offered by Eastern Kentucky University can be the first step in an occupational health and safety career, including a position as an industrial hygienist.
What Industrial Hygienists Do
Industrial hygiene, according to the AIHA, is a varied and comprehensive profession that requires a sincere commitment to caring about people and the safety of their work environments.
“The hygienist’s job is a multifaceted one that touches every aspect of an organization and benefits a company’s bottom line through increased productivity, improved morale, and lower workers’ compensation and liability costs,” the AIHA says.
Ultimately, the industrial hygienist’s goal is to protect workers, their families, and the community, the AIHA says. Typical responsibilities may include:
- Investigating and examining workplaces for hazards and potential dangers
- Making recommendations to improve safety conditions for workers and the community
- Conducting research to provide data on potentially harmful workplace conditions
- Developing techniques to anticipate and control potentially dangerous situations in the workplace or community
- Training and educating the community about job-related risks
- Advising government officials about worker health and safety and assisting in the development of regulations
- Ensuring that workers follow health and safety procedures
In addition, the AIHS says, industrial hygienists often deal with issues such as:
- Indoor air quality, including sick building syndrome and second-hand tobacco smoke
- Evaluation and control of environmental lead exposure
- Emergency response planning and community relations
- Hazardous agents such as asbestos, pesticides, and radon gas
- Cumulative Trauma Disorders, including repetitive stress injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome
- Radiation from electromagnetic fields or microwaves
Other ways that industrial hygienists protect workers, according to the AIHA, include:
- Controlling noise in the workplace. Each year 22 million people in the U.S. are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work.
- Working with museum curators. Industrial hygienists help develop programs to protect staff from chemicals used to preserve artifacts.
- Helping to protect firefighters. Industrial hygienists’ research finds better ways to protect firefighters from toxic exposures when responding to fires.
- Assisting in emergency response efforts:
- After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, industrial hygienists helped protect emergency responders from heat, stress, fatigue, and asbestos hazards.
- In 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, they procured donations of personal protective equipment and offered expertise on mold and environmental hazards.
- During the 2015 Ebola outbreak, they protected emergency responders in West Africa as well as hospital staff taking infected patients to the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit.
Salary and Job Outlook
Being an industrial hygienist requires a minimum of a college degree. A bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety such as the program offered at the University of Kentucky can prepare graduates for a successful career in the field.
After working for at least four years, industrial hygienists are eligible to seek the Certified Industrial Hygienist Certification offered by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. Among other eligibility requirements, applicants must pass a comprehensive one-day exam.
Many industrial hygienists work for corporations or federal or state government agencies. The fastest-growing segment of the profession, however, is self-employment or consulting, according to the AIHA. Industrial hygiene careers can also lead to positions in upper management.
As of December 2018, the average pay for industrial hygienists was $83,794, according to Salary.com. They may make between $71,881 and $99,463, depending on a range of factors including education, certification, additional skills or areas of specialization, and experience in the profession.
About Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety
Eastern Kentucky’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program can prepare graduates for a variety of occupational health and safety careers, including positions as industrial hygienists.
Coursework includes principles in occupational safety and health, construction safety, and safety and health program management. The program’s online format allows students to pursue their degree while maintaining their home and career responsibilities. For more information, contact EKU now.
Guardians of workplace safety: AIHA
What industrial hygienists do: AIHA
Job responsibilities: AIHA
Protecting workers: AIHA