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Who Needs an Environmental Hygienist?

Phil La Duke of Rockford Greene International continues his look at the various specialties within the Safety function by exploring a role focused on maintaining regulatory compliance, protecting the workers, environment, and in some cases the products from coming into contact with hazardous chemicals.

Posted: May 9, 2012


What sort of regulatory compliance must you maintain? Do your shop operations need someone that is focused on protecting the workers, the environment, and in some cases, the products themselves from coming into contact with hazardous chemicals? Consider the Industrial Hygienist.


Virtually all American manufacturers do their part to improve the environment, promote energy efficiency, reduce waste and recycle materials. But under the current administration, U.S. manufacturers have witnessed an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has attempted to expand its environmental rules or impose entirely new regulatory burdens.

The aggressive EPA agenda has made many shops reconsider the role of environmental safety in their operations and revisit whether they need to add the technical skills of an industrial hygienist to their organization.

An industrial hygienist is sometimes called an “environmental hygienist” or even an “occupational hygienist” (typically in the UK and Europe), and is usually tasked with maintaining an acceptable standard of environmental quality that includes a clean and potable water supply, clean and safe air, efficient and safe waste disposal, and even protection of food from biological and chemical contaminants.



This person is also an expert in the control of environmental stressors which may cause workers to become sick, have impaired health, or to suffer significant pain. Effectively, the environmental hygienist is tasked with making sure he or she knows the dangers presented by the working conditions, understands how and when to establish safe exposure limits, and how to make sure those limits are not exceeded.

A typical environmental hygienist has at least a bachelor’s degree (many have a masters or even doctoral degrees) in chemistry, physics or a biological or physical science. A growing number have degrees in the discipline of environmental hygiene itself.  In short, these people are scientists that are trained to assess, and contain hazardous substances.

The primary area of responsibility in this role involves protecting workers from exposure to harmful substances they use to do their jobs, or to which the workers are exposed simply by being in close proximity to a chemical. Because the hazardous materials differ widely from industry to industry, it is impossible for one to compile a comprehensive list of the most commonly used chemicals.

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