Although some people will associate Occupational Hygienists with respirators and PPE (and yes I admit that I’m not doing much lately to dispel that theory!), the main focus on what we do is to prevent or reduce or exposure to some sort of hazardous agent. We call this, ‘controlling’ occupational exposure.
Ultimately, if you see us running around collecting air samples and testing for something, we’re normally doing this to check if the controls that are in place are effective (or not). Apart from getting rid of the hazardous substance altogether or substituting the form the substance is in (ie: from a powder to a pellet), one of the most effective control measures that we use to reduce exposure is through the use of ventilation.
Aside from assisting in the initial design and commissioning of such systems, some of the things that Occupational Hygienists do on an ongoing basis are to test the capture velocity to make sure that the system captures the airborne contaminant away from the workers breathing zone, test the transport velocity (which needs to be fast enough for the collected particles to remain airborne and not drop out half way down the duct) and other monitoring including personal exposure monitoring to make sure that the overall control strategy is actually working.
Sometimes this is enough to control exposure, but sometimes unfortunately due to the toxic nature of the substance present, additional controls are needed. A good example of this is controlling exposure to chemicals that are known human carcinogens. Controlling exposure is usually a multi-faceted approach inclusive of ventilation, monitoring (for both the chemical and of the workers health), training, and the use of respirators and PPE at a minimum. Of all of these things though, the one with the best draw card for photos is the worker in full PPE…as photos of people in respirators are usually more interesting than photos of ventilation ducts!!
The downside of this though is that I was called the ‘respirator lady’ last week…because that’s what a worker thought I did all day….tell people to wear respirators…which explains why he gave me such a perplexed look when I told him how much I love my job!
So now I’m on a mission to find interesting photos demonstrating the other control measures we routinely design and specify. Maybe “When Good Ducting Goes Bad” will replace “Respirators Gone Wrong”!