What is occupational hygiene? You might have heard of the term, but could be wondering what it means, or what this field of workplace safety is all about. In basic terms, it refers to hygiene, or safety, in the workplace, meaning that occupational hygienists work to mitigate the risks that come with certain occupations, jobs and workplaces. It’s true that all occupations can indeed carry a certain level of risk, so these services are a necessary consideration for all workplaces.
The fundamental and governing principles of occupational hygiene are anticipation, recognition, evaluation, communication, and control of workplace hazards. These hazards are also known as stressors. Stressors can adversely affect the health and well-being of workers, and this doesn’t just include physical health. Occupational hygienists also take into consideration four other broad categories of health and safety. Keep reading to find out all about the five categories of hazards, as identified by the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.
The category of biological stressors is a broad one that incorporates several different but connected hazards.
- The threat of contracting viruses in the workplace
- Threats from toxins that come from contact with biological material including blood, saliva, and faeces
- Spores and fungi including mould
- Bioactive compounds (which are compounds that have an effect on tissue, cells or living organisms)
In 2023, for instance, an ongoing biological hazard in the workplace is that workers will contract the virus COVID-19. There are specific laws and regulations around maintaining a COVID-safe workplace. Further, another biological stressor that is ongoing at the moment is Japanese Encephalitis. This virus presents a risk for those who work with or close to pigs, and also people who work outside or largely outside.
Another broad category that incorporates the many different hazards that can come from exposure to chemicals in differing forms. The chemicals that are categorised as stressors can be either solid, liquid or gas, and they include:
- Skin irritants (for example fibreglass)
- Carcinogens (including asbestos)
- Respiratory sensitisers
There is also a subcategory known as physicochemical hazards, and these include:
- Chemical explosions and fire
- Chemical reactions
Workers can experience serious harm or adverse effects from coming into contact with a hazardous chemical through skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. For example, asbestos is an extremely dangerous carcinogen that workers have the potential to come into contact with if they work in certain industries. However, all employers and business owners must also be aware that all employees have the potential to be exposed to asbestos in any industry.
Physical hazards or stressors include:
- Body stressing: a physical hazard that can result in bodily harm or injury through carrying out manual tasks that may be hazardous. This can include manual handling tasks, or computer work, for example.
- Work in confined spaces
- Electricity – this refers to injury or even death that comes from electrocution, as well as other related injuries
As with the other categories of hazards mentioned in this article, physical hazards carry with them a series of rules and regulations that must be followed by business owners and employers. Employees also have obligations to follow these safety rules and regulations too.
Ergonomic hazards are those factors in the physical environment that have the potential to cause harm or injury, such as musculoskeletal injuries. Below are some factors that have the potential to be an ergonomic hazard:
- Equipment layout and operation
- Manual handling (including lifting, pulling, and pushing)
You can find the full list of ergonomic hazards and advice for eradicating these hazards at Comcare – the government department for workplace health and safety.
Psychosocial hazards or stressors are also a broad category that encompasses the mental health and wellbeing of all workers. According to Safe Work Australia Under Workplace Health and Safety laws, business owners, employers or anyone conducting business has a legal obligation to “manage the risk of psychosocial hazards” in the workplace. This refers to circumstances or factors that occur in the workplace that can adversely affect the wellbeing of workers.
This is once again, a broad category that includes, but is not limited to bullying, job demands, poor organisational justice, violence and aggression, and harassment of all kinds, including sexual harassment. These factors and the others listed on Safe Work Australia can interact and combine, as well as manifest in a number of negative ways. These include depression and anxiety, fatigue-related injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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