What is occupational hygiene?
Cancers, severe allergic reactions, nervous system impairment and noise-induced hearing loss are just some of the diseases that impact the lives of many Ontario workers and their families each year. These diseases are caused by many workplace health hazards including
- Chemicals such as solvents, asbestos, carbon monoxide, silica
- Physical agents such as noise, radiation and excessive heat
- Biological hazards such as moulds and bacteria
Occupational Hygiene is a science devoted to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling these health hazards and helps workers avoid sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort.
What the law says
Ontario has legislation that governs workplace exposure to chemical, physical and biological health hazards. The legislation includes:
- Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS)
- Designated Substances Regulation (Ontario Regulation 490/09)
- Regulation for Control of Exposure to Biological and Chemical Agents (Ontario Regulation 833)
How occupational hygiene can help your business
Businesses benefit from identifying and controlling health hazards in the workplace as:
- Addressing health hazards in the workplace can demonstrate compliance with the law and minimize work stoppages, as well as Ministry of Labour fines or orders
- Healthy workers require fewer days off to cope with illness
- Healthy workers are generally more productive while at work
- Controlling health hazards reduces costs for workers’ compensation
What can you do?
- Include occupational health as part of your company’s overall health and safety policy and program.
- Identify and create a list or inventory of health hazards in your workplace. Great sources of information include
- workers and supervisors
- the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representatives
- WSIB data
- Health & Safety Ontario
- other companies in your industry
- an Occupational Hygienist.
- Know the legislation that applies to your workplace and comply with the requirements
- Consult your joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative to find ways to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure
- Eliminate the hazard or select a healthier option. For example, purchasing quieter equipment could be less expensive than the alternative of purchasing hearing protectors, training workers, and dealing with communication problems in the workplace
- Use controls that stop exposure along the path such as ventilation, barriers or enclosures
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used as a last resort.
- Train workers to understand the health hazards in your workplace and how to properly protect themselves
- Ensure that your monthly workplace inspections include looking for health hazards
- Review your program and procedures on a regular basis or whenever circumstances change to ensure new health hazards are identified and controlled.