Businesses in modern American are more concerned with the health and safety of their employees than ever before. This has partly to do with regulatory progress, increased public awareness and technological innovation. In addition, many businesses rely on someone to ensure that safe and healthy workplace conditions are maintained and upgraded when needed. The person who holds such a position is known as an industrial hygienist.
Active in fields as diverse as health care, manufacturing, academia, government and oil and gas, industrial hygienists focus on anticipating workplace health and safety concerns and developing strategies to prevent them. A Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety can be the first step in an occupational health and safety career, including the position of industrial hygienist.
What Is an Industrial Hygienist?
The definition of industrial hygiene, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is “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.”
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), a membership organization for the profession, calls industrial hygienists “the guardians of workplace safety” because they ensure that work environments comply with health, safety and sanitation regulations. These professionals analyze health risks and advise management regarding how to minimize accidents and issues.
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 AIHA describes how “industrial hygienists also unite management, workers and all segments of a company behind the common goal of health and safety.”
What Does an Industrial Hygienist Do?
Ultimately, the industrial hygienist’s goal is to protect workers, their families and the community. The AIHA says, “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.”
Typical responsibilities may include the following.
- 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 AIHA says industrial hygienists often deal with specific issues.
- 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
Industrial hygienists also protect workers in other ways, according to the AIHA.
- 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: They help develop programs to protect staff from chemicals that are used to preserve artifacts.
- Helping protect firefighters: Their 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 who were taking infected patients to the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit.
Beginning in early 2020, industrial hygienists proved to be instrumental in helping stem the spread of COVID-19 by instituting and promoting infection prevention controls. This is according to the article COVID-19 and the Industrial Hygienist on Synergist, the industrial hygiene news source. These actions were especially crucial to essential businesses that were not shut down during the nationwide quarantine periods.
How to Become an Industrial Hygienist
Pursuing a career as an industrial hygienist requires a minimum of a college bachelor’s degree. Individuals typically earn a bachelor’s in occupational health and safety, engineering, biology, chemistry or a related discipline. A bachelor’s degree in occupational safety, such as the online program offered at Eastern Kentucky University, can prepare graduates for a successful career in the field.
After working at least four years and gaining on-site training, individuals 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. Those who wish to become more job competitive or work in higher-level positions can earn a master’s degree in industrial hygiene, health physics or a related field.
Industrial Hygienist Salary
The median annual salary for industrial hygienists is around $74,500, according to the compensation website PayScale. Salary may vary depending on a range of factors including education, job location, certification, specific organization, additional skills, areas of specialization and experience. Industrial hygienists are included in the category of occupational health and safety specialists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Professionals in this occupation earn a median annual salary of $74,100, with the highest 10% of earners making as much as $111,130.
Industrial Hygienist Job Outlook
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.
The job outlook for occupational health and safety specialists is projected to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS. This translates to about 3,800 new jobs across a variety of industries including government, manufacturing, scientific and technical services, construction, health care and beyond.
Pursue a Career as an Industrial Hygienist
Eastern Kentucky University’s online 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 empowers students to pursue their degree while maintaining home and career responsibilities.
Explore how earning your bachelor’s degree in occupational safety can prepare you for a career as an industrial hygienist.