Center for Asbestos Safety

Industrial Hygiene

On its most basic level, Industrial Hygiene is the manipulation of the workplace environment in an attempt to keep workers free from both injury and illness.

Industrial Hygiene's objectives comprise anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling those factors found in a workplace environment that could cause harm to the worker. An Industrial Hygienist's job is to devise and implement practical strategies to both monitor and improve the environment so as to reduce the possibility of injury or illness.

There has always been an awareness that certain working conditions are harmful to the worker, just as there have also always been attempts to manipulate these conditions for the workers' benefit. One of the first potential hazards on record is the lead toxicity that 4th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates warned the mining industry about. The trend continued in the 1st century BC with Pliny the Elder reporting on the harmful effects of sulfur and zinc. In the 2nd century AD, the physician Galen chronicled the dangers of acid mists in the copper mining industry, as well as those of lead poisoning. Scholars in the middle ages continued his work by identifying and listing those diseases to which mine workers were susceptible and also by listing precautions that could be taken to reduce the possibility of these diseases occurring.

In 1700, the 'Father of Industrial Medicine', Bernardo Ramazzini, wrote and published "De Morbis Artificum Diatriba" in which he listed all of the workplace-caused illnesses known at the time and insisted they should be studied in the work environment rather than the hospital. 1743 saw Ellenborg target safety concerns in the gold mining industry and also write about the toxicity of various materials including mercury and lead. In 18th century England, Pott spotlighted the effect of soot upon chimney sweeps and caused Parliament to pass the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1788, which regulated the field.

By passing the English Factory Acts from 1833 onwards, England became the first country to legislate compensation for occupational injuries. These Acts did not, however, address the factors that had caused the injuries in the first place. Shortly thereafter, many other countries followed suit and published workmen's compensation acts of their own, which prompted several environmental improvements like on site medical care and the implementation of safety precautions.

The early 20th century United States saw Dr Alice Hamilton highlighting the connection between workers' illnesses and dangerous working conditions and also setting down guidelines on how to improve the workers' situations. Compensation Acts for civil employees were passed in the USA beginning in 1908 and this program culminated in all states' passing at least some workers' compensation legislation and industrial hygiene programs by 1948.

Today all USA business owners are forced to regulate working conditions in order to eliminate harmful environments. Three sets of legislation have been passed to enforce these laws: The Metallic and Nonmetallic Mines Safety Act of 1966, The Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 and The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Center for Asbestos
Safety in the Workplace