1.2.3 The role of the occupational hygienist

An occupational hygienist is a professional able to:

  • Anticipate the health hazards that may result from work processes, operations and equipment, and accordingly advise on their planning and design
  • Recognise and understand, in the work environment, the occurrence (real or potential) of chemical, physical and biological agents and other stresses, and their interactions with other factors, which may affect the health and well-being of workers
  • Understand the possible routes of agent entry into the human body, and the effects that such agents and other factors may have on health
  • Assess workers’ exposure to potentially harmful agents and factors and to evaluate the results
  • Evaluate work processes and methods, from the point of view of the possible generation and release/propagation of potentially harmful agents and other factors, with a view to eliminating exposures, or reducing them to acceptable levels
  • Design, recommend for adoption, and evaluate the effectiveness of control strategies, alone or in collaboration with other professionals to ensure effective and economical control
  • Participate in overall risk analysis and management of an agent, process or workplace, and contribute to the establishment of priorities for risk management
  • Understand the legal framework for occupational hygiene practice in their own country educate, train, inform and advise persons at all levels, in all aspects of hazard communication
  • Work effectively in a multidisciplinary team involving other professionals
  • Recognise agents and factors that may have environmental impact, and understand the need to integrate occupational hygiene practice with environmental protection

It should be kept in mind that a profession consists not only of a body of knowledge, but also of a Code of Ethics; national occupational hygiene associations, as well as the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA), have their own Codes of Ethics (WHO 1992b).

Occupational hygiene is not yet universally recognised as a profession; however, in many countries, framework legislation is emerging that will lead to its establishment.

Occupational hygiene technician

An occupational hygiene technician is “a person competent to carry out measurements of the work environment” but not “to make the interpretations, judgements, and recommendations required from an occupational hygienist”. The necessary level of competence may be obtained in a comprehensive or limited field (WHO 1992b).