Occupational hygiene is an exciting and dynamic specialty in the safety spectrum. Occupational hygiene is the process of anticipation, recognition, evaluation, communication and control of environmental stressors in the workplace that can affect the health and well being of the workforce. Occupational hygienists assist to identify the risk level of occupational exposures to stressors (hazards) and assist in the control of this exposure before disease or harm manifests.
Health hazard identification is the first step to developing an occupational hygiene program. This process will develop a list of the stressors that the workforce are potentially exposed to. These will be under the categories of Biological (legionella, Mould etc), Chemical (Lead, Cyanide etc), Physical (Vibration, Heat, Noise), Ergonomic and Psychosocial. This will often consist of a walk through survey to identify the issues and list detail of the potential for harm. The health hazard identification needs to be conducted in the workplace with input from the operational staff.
Assessments involve Qualitative risk assessment that is performed to identify the potential exposures that require monitoring. This is a risk management process to establish the priority exposures for further review and uses judgment of the hygienist, engineers, managers and operators. Following the Qualitative risk assessment, Quantitative risk assessment (i.e. the process of obtaining data to determine what the actual exposure is in the workplace through scientific data) is conducted to accurately assess the levels of workplace exposures.
The OCTIEF Group specialise in the field of Occupational & Industrial Hygiene and provide a comprehensive scope of services to a wide range of clients both nationally and internationally. Our dedicated and highly skilled team of consultants offer a turn key solution to any problem, and provide the following range of services:
- Assessment of Workplace Hazards & Contaminants
- Development of Occupational Monitoring Programs
- Workplace & Industrial Exposure Assessment
- Solvent Vapour Monitoring (Welding Fumes, Gases, VOC’s, etc)
- Biological Monitoring of Bacteria, Fungi, Mould, and Pathogens
- Risk Assessment, Communication & Management
- Workplace compliance monitoring in line with National Exposure Standards
A risk assessment is an important step in protecting your workers and your business, as well as complying with the law. It helps you focus on the risks that really matter in your workplace with the potential to cause real harm. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks, for example ensuring spillages are cleaned up promptly so people do not slip, or cupboard drawers are kept closed to ensure people do not trip. For most, that means simple, cheap and effective measures to ensure your most valuable asset, your workforce, is protected.
The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk, but you are required to protect people as far as reasonably practicable. OCTIEF have provided a method adopted Internationally below… This is not the only way to do a risk assessment, there are other methods that work well, particularly for more complex risks and circumstances. However, we believe this method is the most straightforward for most organisations.
WHAT IS RISK ASSESSMENT?
A risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you can weigh up whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm. Workers and others have a right to be protected from harm caused by a failure to take reasonable control measures. Accidents and ill health can ruin lives and affect your business too if output is lost, machinery is damaged, insurance costs increase or you have to go to court. You are legally required to assess the risks in your workplace so that you put in place a plan to control the risks.
Step 1 – Identify the hazards
Step 2 – Decide who might be harmed and how
Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Step 4 – Record your findings and implement them
Step 5 – Review your assessment and update if necessary
Don’t overcomplicate the process. In many organisations, the risks are well known and the necessary control measures are easy to apply. You probably already know whether, for example, you have employees who move heavy loads and so could harm their backs, or where people are most likely to slip or trip. If so, check that you have taken reasonable precautions to avoid injury.
If you run a small organisation and you are confident you understand what’s involved, you can do the assessment yourself. You don’t have to be a health and safety expert. If you work in a larger organisation, you could ask a health and safety advisor to help you. If you are not confident, get help from someone who is competent. In all cases, you should make sure that you involve your staff or their representatives in the process. They will have useful information about how the work is done that will make your assessment of the risk more thorough and effective. But remember, you are responsible for seeing that the assessment is carried out properly.
When thinking about your risk assessment, remember:
- A hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer etc;
- The risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be.
WHAT DOES AN OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENIST DO?
An occupational hygienist is a qualified, trained and experienced scientist or engineer who can conduct monitoring and provide professional advice on workplace associated hazards. Workplace hazards include:
- Indoor air quality (air quality associated with offices or accommodation);
- Industrial air quality (air quality associated with the mining/manufacturering/processing industries);
- Ambient air quality (air quality associated with the outdoor environment);
- Thermal extremes; and
WHEN OR WHY DO YOU NEED AN OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENIST?
Each workplace is required to conduct internal risk assessments on each of their processes with regards to work place health and safety requirements. Where the risk assessment identifies hazardous activities with the potential for worker exposure, the process should be monitored initially to determine the level of worker exposure and may require periodical monitoring thereafter depending on the initial outcomes. Alternatively the need to conduct workplace monitoring may be triggered by health concerns raised by employees.
Monitoring can be conducted by site personnel if they are trained in the appropriate sampling methodologies. However it is often better to engage an occupational hygienist. The occupational hygienist will maintain independence from the company were the monitoring is being conducted and will be trained and experienced in the correct sampling requirements. Each of the hazards listed above is a specialist field, therefore it is important to ensure that the occupational hygienist engaged is suitably qualified and experienced in the type of monitoring that you or your company require.
What are some of the common health concerns?
Health effects can range in severity from non-specific illness (such as those associated with sick building syndrome) to loss of concentration and headaches to central nervous system impacts depending on the degree of exposure, route of exposure (skin contact, inhalation etc) and the exposure source (physical, chemical, biological etc). These health impacts can either persist for the exposure duration (known as short-term acute exposure) or can remain in the system long-term (known as chronic exposure) and be life threatening.
Short-term acute exposure can be experienced immediately and reduce or disappear once the person is removed from the hazard exposure with no residual impact. The impact can gradually worsen with repeated exposure (chronic exposure) or may not present until years/decades after the exposure e.g. cancer.
WHAT IS OCCUPATIONAL MONITORING?
Below is an outline of the steps involved in conducting an effective occupational monitoring program:
- Where there have been no reported complaints: Conduct an internal risk assessment of all processes which identifies potential hazards (i.e. develop a list of chemicals that may be a potential health concern or hazard, these can be obtained from the Material Safety Data Sheets for each chemical) or alternatively conduct a workplace audit into the activities being conducted by site personnel and the hazards associated with those processes/activities. In some instances both a review of MSDSs and an onsite audit of activities may be required;
- Where there have been reported adverse health impacts: Discuss with personnel the specific health impacts experienced and conduct an audit of the potential cause (e.g. are the complaints associated with a particular process/activity). Where it is a potential chemical source compile a list of the MSDSs associated with the identified process/activity;
- Based on the known hazards/adverse health impacts the monitoring needs to be designed to be inclusive of these hazards and impacts. In the instance of air quality associated with industrial/manufacturering or mining processes a review of the material safety data sheets (MSDS) should identify which chemicals or processes are most likely to cause health concerns. The monitoring must include these parameters. Physical impacts associated with noise and vibration can also adversely impact on the human body and need specific specialised monitoring to determine their impact;
- Determine the most appropriate method of monitoring and sample collection (e.g. personal air monitoring or biological monitoring). The methodology should follow either a nationally accepted or internationally accepted standard (e.g. Australian Standard; International Organisation for Standardisation [AS / ISO] or National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH]);
- Conduct the hazard monitoring (in the case of air contaminants this will involve the collection of an air sample from within a persons breathing zone while the typical work is being conducted). The monitoring often involves sample collection regardless of the hazard type or monitoring in the case of noise and vibration. An audit of the activities occurring during the hazard monitoring will also be conducted;
- Arrange for analysis of the sample/s. This best done by a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited laboratory for that specific test; and
- Interpret the sample results and prepare a report advising on the extent of worker exposure and comparison to guidelines. Where the monitoring/sample results indicate an unacceptable exposure exists recommendations on how to mitigate the problem should also be provided in the report.
Once the report has been provided to the employer, it is the employer’s responsibility to implement the recommendations outlined in the report or implement alternative measures to reduce the risk of exposure to their workers. Depending on the occupational hygienist’s experience they may be able to provide further assistance with implementing the measures recommended. Where the initial monitoring indicated an unacceptable exposure repeat monitoring is required once control measures have been implemented. The repeat monitoring is to demonstrate that the control measures are effective and that worker exposures have been reduced to safe levels.
OCCUPATIONAL HYGIENE AND MOULD ASSESSMENT
Moulds are simple, microscopic organisms that are present throughout our environment, both indoors and outdoors. Moulds, along with mushrooms and yeasts are fungi and play a vital role in the Earth’s ecology by decomposing organic material. For moulds to develop they do not need sunlight and require only an organic substrate, moisture and the right temperatures to proliferate. Unlike plants, mould cannot manufacture their own nutrients and grow by digesting the organic material on which they are imbedded and absorbing the released nutrients. Because of this digestion, moulds gradually destroy whatever they grow on and can be seen in the form of discolouration, frequently green, grey, brown or black but also sometimes white and other colours.
Exposure to mould is unavoidable except when the most stringent of air filtration, isolation and environmental sanitation measures are observed such as hospital isolation units. It is common to find mould spores in the air inside homes, with most of these spores entering from outdoor sources by circulating through doorways, windows, heating, ventilation systems, and air conditioning systems and also by the deposition of spores on people and animals, providing carriers of mould into these indoor environments.
In the indoor environment mould proliferates in areas characterised by excessive moisture. Mould growth is especially common on materials or structures that remain wet for 48-72 hours and hence is a common problem after water intrusion from flooding. The four most common indoor moulds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus and Alnternaria. Individuals can be exposed to mould through skin contact, ingestion of contaminated foods, hand to mouth contact after handling mouldy materials, or more commonly through the inhalation of mould spores or mould-related products.
HEALTH EFFECTS OF MOULD…
Mould can affect human health in a number of ways. Possible responses however generally fall into one of the three groups: allergic reactions; infections; or toxic responses. Responses range from minor, serious or negative and can be temporary, long-term or permanent and may vary over time. Those most of risk include the age susceptible and those with pre-existing medical conditions or allergy problems. Typical symptoms that mould-exposed persons report (alone or in a combination) include:
- Eye irritation (burning, watery or reddened eyes);
- Respiratory problems (such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing);
- Skin rashes or irritation;
- Headaches and fatigue;
- Nose or throat irritation; and
- Nasal and sinus congestion.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND OCCUPATIONAL ASSESSMENT
The presence of mould growth, water damage, or musty odors should be addressed quickly. In all instances, any sources of water must be identified and corrected and the extent of water damage and any mould growth determined. Water-damaged materials should be removed or cleaned and dried. For additional information on cleaning water-damaged materials and personal belongings, contact 1300 138 366.
A trained building or environmental health professional may be helpful in assessing the extent of the moisture problem and mould growth and developing a site-specific work plan. The presence of a trained professional to provide oversight during remediation can also be helpful to ensure quality work and compliance with the work plan. A trained professional should have, at a minimum, a relevant science or engineering degree and two years of full-time supervised experience in mold assessment.
A visual inspection is the most important initial step in identifying a possible mould problem and in determining remedial strategies. The extent of any water damage and mould growth should be visually assessed and the affected building materials identified. A visual inspection should also include observations of hidden areas where damages may be present, such as crawl spaces, attics, and behind wallboards. Carpet backing and padding, wallpaper, moldings (e.g. baseboards), insulation and other materials that are suspected of hiding mould growth should also be assessed.
Ceiling tiles, paper-covered gypsum wallboards (Plasterboard), structural wood, and other cellulose containing surfaces should be given careful attention during a visual inspection. Ventilation systems should be visually checked for damp conditions and/or mould growth on system components such as filters, insulation, and coils/fins, as well as for overall cleanliness. Equipment such as a Q-Trak or infrared camera (to detect moisture in building materials) or a borescope (to view spaces in ductwork or behind walls) may be helpful in identifying hidden sources of mold growth, the extent of water damage, and in determining if the water source is active. Using personal protective equipment such as gloves and respiratory protection (e.g. disposable respirator) should be considered if assessment work might disturb mould. Efforts should also be made to minimize the generation and migration of any dust and mould.
Environmental sampling is usually necessary to proceed with remediation of visually identified mould growth or water-damaged materials. Decisions about appropriate remediation strategies are generally made on the basis of a thorough visual inspection and sampling. Environmental sampling is used to confirm the presence, type, and toxicity of visually identified mould.
If environmental samples are to be collected, a sampling plan should be developed that includes a clear purpose, sampling strategy, and addresses the interpretation of results. Many types of sampling can be performed (e.g. air, surface, dust, and bulk materials) on a variety of fungal components and metabolites, using diverse sampling methodologies. Sampling methods for fungi are not well standardized, however, and may yield highly variable results that can be difficult to interpret.
Environmental sampling should be conducted by an individual who is trained in the appropriate sampling methods and is aware of the limitations of the methods used. Using a laboratory that specializes in environmental mycology is also recommended. The laboratory should be NATA accredited in microbiology.
The goal of remediation is to remove or clean mould-damaged materials using work practices that protect occupants by controlling the dispersion of mould from the work area and protect remediation workers from exposures to mould. The listed remediation methods were designed to achieve this goal; however, they are not meant to exclude other similarly effective methods and are not a substitute for a site-specific work plan. Since little scientific information exists that evaluates the effectiveness and best practices for mould remediation, OCTIEF have developed a standard set of guixdelines for remediation. These guidelines are not intended for use in critical care facilities such as intensive care units, transplant units, or surgical suites.
Prior to any remediation, consideration must be given to the potential presence of other environmental hazards, such as asbestos and lead. These guidelines are based on possible health risks from mould exposure and may be superseded by standard procedures for the remediation of other indoor environmental hazards.
For more information please contact us on 1300 138 366.