A gear and an apple representing the maintenance of good health in the workplace
Occupational Hygiene at OHCOW

The International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA) defines occupational hygiene as,
“…the discipline of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling health hazards in the working environment with the objective of protecting workers health and well-being and safeguarding the community at large.”

Why do we refer to this discipline with the word hygiene?
Hygiene comes from the Greek goddess Hygieia (Hygeia).
Hygieia was concerned with the preservation of good health and the prevention of disease.

Similarly occupational hygienists are concerned with maintaining the body’s homeostasis in a working environment.
The concept of homeostasis is to ensure workers can maintain a balanced harmonic steady state condition in the work environment without having to be exposed to chemical, physical, or biological hazards which may insult the homeostasis of the workers, through proper hierarchy of controls.
If there are exposures in the workplace, the occupational hygienist is equipped with the knowledge to help mitigate the exposures to the workers while keeping the workplace processes running with proper controls.

Clinical Occupational Hygiene

A unique service and skillset, practised by Occupational Hygienists at OHCOW and offered to OHCOW’s clientele.

Clinical Occupational Hygiene uses the concept of homeostasis to learn how historic exposures may have caused the imbalance to the homestasis of the patient or group of patients with similar historic exposures.
With this information the occupational hygienists attempt to find the workplace link to the disease in question, for which the patient (s) are seeking compensation.
Occupational hygienists use their skill set to help uncover the disease-causing agents, through forensic analysis of the workplace history and supportive research that aids in making the link of workplace exposures to occupational disease.

Workers can be exposed to a variety of hazards at their workplace.
They might encounter anything from safety hazards, to chemicals or even biological agents, not to mention physical hazards like noise, ergonomics and psychosocial risk factors.  OHCOW provides expertise to workers and workplaces to help with identifying and control exposure to such hazards.
Our mission is to recognize and prevent occupational disease, this includes prevent harm due to exposure by inhaling substances, getting them on your skin, even having them contaminate your coffee or your lunch at work.

Occupational Hygienists have special skills to:


Anticipate       Recognize       Evaluate       Control
workplace hazards.

Clinical Context

While there are many occupational hygienists who work for businesses, consultants and for the Ministry of Labour; OHCOW hygienists practice in a unique context –
an inter-disciplinary occupational health team (with doctors, nurses, ergonomists, etc.).

The clinical context OHCOW hygienists work in provides a unique interdisciplinary environment.

Rather than focusing on compliance evaluations, OHCOW hygienists are orientated to the occupational disease prevention opportunities.

Rather than simply measuring exposures and comparing them to legal criteria (occupational exposure limits (OELs), OHCOW hygienist take their cue from identifying risk factors for health conditions and using problem solving skills to eliminate or reduce exposures.

The approach taken is to work with the Joint Health and Safety Committees and enable them to address the concerns workers have about the exposures they experience.
This participatory strategy aims at resolving workers’ health concern, not necessarily demonstrating compliance with legal requirements.

OHCOW hygienists also work with individual workers to record personal exposure histories.
Workers with a particular disease may wonder whether the exposures they experienced over their working life may have contributed to the development of the disease.
For instance, someone with asthma may wonder if the chemicals they’ve inhaled at work may have contributed to their condition.

The hygienist will review:
• their work history with them asking questions about the conditions of various exposures, reviewing safety data sheets, hygiene reports and the workers symptom patterns during the exposures.
• the scientific literature regarding typical exposures in similar environments and the association of the health condition with such exposures.

This information will feed into the occupational health team’s collective assessment of the work-relatedness of the worker’s health condition.

OHCOW hygienists also answer questions about exposures and occupational disease.
They are also available to explain particular hazards and ways of reducing or eliminating exposures.

Common topics are:
indoor air quality       noise       asbestos       heat stress       dust       smoke       combustion exhaust       breathing irritants       chemicals causing skin problems, etc.

Some of the methods used by occupational hygienists can be quite technically challenging and require a fair bit of education and expertise to master.
However, clinic hygienists strive to provide workplaces with simple tools and techniques to enable workers to evaluate hazards.

Simple rules such as knowing the odour threshold of a particular chemical can help workers estimate the degree of exposure and associated hazard.

Observation tips such as identifying moist conditions in building materials can help identify potential exposure concerns and focus prevention efforts.

Having to shout to be heard at an arm’s length away is an indicator of excessive noise exposure.

Various checklists, charts and rules of thumb can help those without formal expertise to identify exposures of concern.

OHCOW’s Heat Stress Calculator is an example of a simple tool based on Humidex to help workers determine safe working conditions.

OHCOWs hygiene services are available to everyone who has a workplace exposure/occupational health question, and to any workplace needing assistance with an occupational health concern.  Individual services can be accessed merely by contacting the clinic (no referrals required) and workplace assistance is available to Joint Health and Safety Committees providing a written request (signed by the JH&SC Co-Chairs) to the clinic.

For queries please contact us at ask@ohcow.on.ca