Occupational Hygiene

Instagram of the Week!

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This week’s Instagram has been brought to you by Claire Di Corleto @claire_amandah

This workplace not only has people that need protecting, it has Dalek’s too!

Young Hygienist Snapshot: Sammy Connell [International Edition]

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I was fortunate enough to meet Sammy Connell in London recently where both attended the International Occupational Hygiene Associations 2015 Conference. #IOHA2015

Sammy is a little pocket rocket and a super fun hygienist. I loved hearing about Sammy’s experience, especially the places she has worked around the world, not to mention the exciting projects! There is one thing that I know for certain about Sammy, that is she tackles life head on, never missing an opportunity.

So here is 5 mins with Sammy:

1. Best location I have worked: In terms of hygiene, my favorite was a refinery in Baton Rouge. I LOVED the people. In terms of ultimate living location, Orlando, Florida, USA or Lausanne, Switzerland.

2. The best thing about my job is: Saving lives, clearly. But the fact that we have so many opportunities within our field isn’t a moot point. We can work in a number of sectors and locations worldwide, we can see processes the general public couldn’t normally see and we have access to a network of exquisite individuals. Speaking of our network, AIHA’s Future Leaders Institute and IOHA London 2015 were among two of the most amazing experiences in my life.

3. Career Highlight: In a nerdy hygienist-sense, being able to implement an engineering control and having management buy into my rationale.

In a life sense, moving across the pond for a job I truly adore. How can it get better than that? Also, working on an EU Project, conducting research at multiple defense facilities in Europe. That covers hygiene and life…

Just to make a point [about how amazing OH can be], I’ve thought of about 40 other highlights I won’t include. Did I mention meeting Holly Fletcher and the rest of my Aussie OH soul mates?

4. If you want to be an Occupational Hygienist, you’d better get used to:  People telling you “no” or “it’s always been done this way”. It’s also slightly unnerving to continuously reassure someone that you’re essentially doing your job for his or her benefit – you understand that wearing a respirator isn’t actually fun, for example. You just have to remember why you’re there doing your job in the first place and fight for what you think is right!

5. People normally think my job involves: Cleaning teeth at someone’s workplace or keeping industrial equipment clean.

6. The best thing I’ve been asked to do was:  Work an emergency and assess a shark capture – not the same event. I almost forgot about reconstructing homemade explosive devices to sample throughout that process. 1F4A3

7. The worst thing I’ve been asked to do was: Roof inspections. We all know how hygienists feel about safety…

Sammy Connell 3


Check Sammy out working in a cleanroom at Oak Ridge National Lab during her first internship in 2010.




Sammy Sammy talking with the one and only Jimmy Perkins at #IOHA2015

Instagram of the Week!

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This week’s Instagram has been brought to you by Alden Strealy @aldenstrealy

I love this!

A great reminder of the famous Paracelsus quote The dose makes the poison” (Dosis facit venenum) (1493)

Instagram of the Week!

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This week’s Instagram has been brought to you by Derek Farmer @sosu2005

A classic example of the Tyndall effect used by hygienist’s to observe dust generation during material transfer activities!

Why would you wear that? PART 4

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Respiratory Protection in Asia – The Truth About Masks Used

Do you want the truth?  Think you can handle the truth?

Well, the truth is the following three methods used to protect yourself from breathing in contaminated air will not provide you any protection at all!

IMG_2087 Respiratory Protection2 IMG_2298

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, however, this blog is not all about sunshine 1F304 and rainbows 1F308
This blog is intended to shed some light on the “masks” commonly used to protect people from airborne hazards in Asia, and tell you why they don’t work.

NOTE: The information presented below is not based on rigorous filtration efficiency testing repeated in a laboratory.   The information presented answers one simple question i.e. “will that mask protect me?”  It’s pretty simple to answer, either it will or it won’t protect you.

In Part 3 of this Respiratory Protection in Asia Series, we explored the Principals of Protection.  We now know that a mask will only protect you when all of the air that goes into your lungs passes through a filter that removes all of the bad stuff from the air. To achieve these two fundamental things need to occur:

1. the filter media has to be designed and tested to prove that the contaminants you are protecting yourself from will be removed from the air; and
2. all of the air has to pass through the filter before it reaches your lungs – that is, no bad air is can pass through the filter or travel through any gap.

So let’s apply these principles to the mask most commonly seen to be worn in Asia……the good old Medical Mask. Surgical-Face-Mask

Firstly what is a medical mask?

In the 1890’s a German bacteriologist and hygienist, by the name of Carl Flügge discovered infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera could be transmitted through droplets released from people’s mouths and noses (AKA Flügge droplets) .  This discovery lead to the development of the first medical masks consisting of gauze strips placed over the wearer’s mouth. It is believed French surgeon Paul Berger was the first to wear a surgical mask while operating in 1897.

These days, despite the introduction of immunisation and antibiotic drugs, used to control communicable diseases and infection such masks continue to be used for purposes of:

– limiting the transmission of infective agents from staff to patients during surgical procedures;
– protecting the wearer against splashes of potentially contaminated liquids; and
– reducing the risk of spreading infections, particularly in epidemic or pandemic situations.

Okay, so let’s apply the respiratory protection principles to test the Medical Mask:

Will the mask filter remove the airborne contaminants?

Dust captured in respirator with crossNo Square1No, the mask will not filter airborne contaminants.  Why? because fundamentally the medical mask is designed to stop germs released by the wearer from reaching the outside world – – they are not designed to stop airborne contaminants from the outside world getting in!



Will the mask fit the wearer’s face so no gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face are possible?

No Square1No, the mask does not mold to the wearer’s face to achieve an adequate seal.




What about the designer masks you ask? Surely they must protect you, they look so good.


I am told that the designer masks are preferred over the medical masks, however, they are more expensive and, therefore, are less common.  I have also been told that an added benefit of these masks is you can wash them and they will last up to 3 or 4 months.




So what are the masks made up of?

FotorCreatedThe masks are made of 3 layers. The first layer is cotton fabric, the second is a foam insert and the third layer is mesh material.IMG_2306_2








So let’s apply the respiratory protection principles to test the Designer Mask:

Will the mask filter remove the airborne contaminants?

IMG_2363IMG_2363_2The simple answer is no No Square1
Why’s that you ask? Well, the material the masks are made of allows airborne contaminants to pass through and into your lungs. In Part 3 of this series, we demonstrated the size of airborne particles (PM10 and PM2.5) in comparison to a human hair. The photo on the left shows a human hair that has been pushed through the mask to demonstrate how big the holes are in the material are. The photo on the right shows how the large holes can be seen with the naked eye.

Will the mask fit the wearer’s face so no gaps between the mask and the wearer’s face are possible?

Designer Mask  No Square1No, the edges of the mask are not adequate to enough for the wearer to achieve a seal and prevent leaks.






What about covering your and mouth and nose with your hand for protection?

Covering mouth and noseNo Square1It’s actually quite difficult to apply the respiratory protection principles to this method of protection. The human hand is not pervious, i.e. air cannot pass through your hand.
Now, hypothetically speaking just say you were able to seal off your mouth and nose with your hand, then how would you actually breathe? Let’s face it, to breathe in clean air we need to remove the bad contaminants, to do this we need a filter. The hand is not a filter. Once you remove your hand away from your face you will continue to breathe in the contamination.

Don’t miss the final blog in this 5 part series where we take a look at the real challenges for protecting persons lungs in Asia.

Why would you wear that? PART 3

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Respiratory Protection in Asia – Principles of Protection

Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that sufficient evidence now demonstrates air pollution to be the world’s single largest environmental health risk,  contributing to 1 in every 8 deaths globally (approx 7 million people per year).

I have been working in Asia for some months now and have certainly noticed the significant environmental pollution. The other thing I have noticed is the  “face masks” worn by the Asian population.

With all due respect, I do have some concern regarding the “masks” I have witnessed in use, particularly as the general perception is they will protect against dusts, chemicals and other biological hazards.

This blog is intended to simply explain how a “mask” works and how it actually protects you from all of the bad stuff in the air!

Hygiene 101

Let me provide you with a simple explanation of how clean air gets into your lungs and how bad air can be kept out.

This is a typical picture used to show the emission of pollution

Now, imagine billions of tiny little pollution particles that continue to float around in the air.  Under a microscope, they usually look like this little creature

Dust with Eyeballs-01
See those eyes? He wants to eat your lungs!!

Now the aim of protection is to stop these little creatures from getting into your lungs

Dust in Lungs

So how do we do this?  Well we wear a device that covers the mouth and nose so clean air gets in and bad air stays out

Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, let me tell you it’s not!

You see when you wear a protective mask there will be a myriad of things that influence whether or not those little creatures will get into your lungs.  Fundamentally to provide you with protection, the mask must:

—    remove creatures of all sizes;
—    remove creatures of all chemical states (gas, solid or liquid); and
—    fit your face.

Let’s have a look at these more closely.


Whoever said size doesn’t matter was wrong! You see the tiny creatures that get into your lungs and hurt you are typically not visible to the naked eye, that is you won’t be able to see them!

Dust (or “particulate matter” as occupational hygiene nerds like to call it) comes in many sizes.  The fact that it is floating in the air demonstrates how small it really is, you see the heavy particles will fall out of the air leaving us to deal with the small ones.

Now here’s two facts for you to consider:

1.     the smaller the creature, the deeper it will go into your lungs
2.    the deeper the creature goes into your lungs the less likely it will be for the creature to ever come out

Well, how small does it have to be you ask?

Let’s look at the pictures below. For us to even breathe in a creature it would have to be around about 10μm (AKA PM10), for a creature to get deep into our lungs it will need to be around 2.5μm (AKA PM2.5).  Now let’s compare these sizes to the size of a human hair.
The microscopic image of the hair on the left below demonstrates the diameter of a human hair to be 60μm.  Now looking at the diagram on the right we can compare the size of each creature to the cross section of human hair. Pretty small right?
PM10 and PM2.5 and Human Hair

So for a mask to even work it would need to include filter media that would capture even the smallest particle.


Creatures that “float around” in the air don’t just include particulates. Creatures come in many different forms and include liquids (think of vapours coming from a petrol tank) and gases.  It is important to understand how the mask will actually adsorb the creatures made up of liquids or gases so that they don’t pass through and travel into your lungs. The discussion above regarding size continues to be relevant even when discussing the chemical state of each creature.

Think of the protection you need in the form of an umbrella that you were standing underneath.  Your goal is not to get wet!  If your umbrella was made of cotton (similar to the shirt on your back) and it started raining, would you get wet? Have a think about it.

vectorstock_1994591 white background

It’s important to understand what you are protecting yourself from, whether it be a gas, solid (particulate) or vapour (liquid) so you know that the mask you are wearing is actually not going to let the little creatures travel across to the other side so they can get into your lungs. This is the very reason why different filters are used to capture different types of creatures.  It is also important to note that sometimes no matter how good your mask is there are just some creatures that cannot be captured with a filter, for example, carbon monoxide (CO).

Dust captured in respirator with tickDust captured in respirator with cross


Sometimes people say to me that they don’t like wearing a mask because it makes their glasses fog up.  Well, I can tell you there is only one reason for that – – – – the mask actually doesn’t fit!

So your still a little confused when I talk about a mask “fitting” you?  Well it is simple, the mask you wear is designed to cover both your mouth and nose as these are the two locations air will go in and out of your body (other than farting of course!). We know that all of the air needs to pass through a filter to remove all of the bad creatures, therefore if there is a gap between your mask and your face, then bad air will enter your lungs, its that simple!

                    Gap between mask and face
Face Seal Leak
                  Gap lets bad air into lungs
Face fit - breathing in contaminants

Source: Fit2Fit

Mask seal against the wearer’s face

What’s not simple is actually getting a seal between the mask and your face, that is getting your mask to fit! Remember the picture showing the tiny size of the creatures in comparison to a human hair?  Well, the picture below demonstrates how something as simple as facial hair will create a gap between a mask and a person’s face resulting in a broken seal. Once this seal is broken it is easy for the little particles to travel through the gap and into the lungs.

Face Seal Leak - Human HairOther things that can affect a seal and create a gap between a mask and a person’s face includes:

—    the material the mask is made from;
—    the shape of the persons face;
—    features such as a persons nose;
—    the size of the mask; and even
—    chewing and talking!

So what do I need to remember?

The only thing I want you to remember from this blog is never assume a mask will protect you

A mask will only protect you when all of the air that goes into your lungs passes through a filter that removes all of the bad creatures. To achieve this two fundamental things need to occur:

1. the filter media has to be designed and tested to prove that the creature you are protecting yourself from will be removed from the air; and

2. all of the air has to pass though the filter before it reaches your lungs – that is, no bad air is can pass though the filter or travel though any gap.

Don’t miss the next blog in this 5 part series where we take a look at and apply the above principles to the following three types of respiratory protection or “masks” commonly used in Asia to protect against all sorts of airborne health hazards.

Respiratory Protection2 IMG_2087  IMG_2058

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Instagram of the Week!

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This week’s instagram has been brought to you by Pete Aspinall AKA @insta_aspis

If that’s the bucket imagine how big the dragline is!

#occupationalhygiene #dragline bucket & jewellery repairs #welding in the sun…

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