Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities. Health and safety hazards cover a wide range of chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic stressors. Those dedicated to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling those hazards are known as Industrial Hygienists. They are professionals dedicated to the well-being of people – at work, at home and in the community.
The term “industrial hygiene” gained popularity in the early 1900’s with the formation of the Industrial Hygiene Section of the American Public Health Association. Since there were few “industrial hygienists”, organizations began to use their Scientists (e.g. chemists, toxicologists, physicians, engineers) to evaluate and improve the health of the work environment, largely with a focus on chemical and noise hazards. The term industrial hygiene is still in use although its application and scope has expanded greatly since that time period to all hazards, industries, workers, their families and the communities. Today, there are other terms that essentially mean the same thing as industrial hygiene, e.g., Occupational Hygiene, Occupational Health, Environment, Health & Safety (EHS).
Anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of hazards have always been the prime goal for the industrial hygiene professional. Traditionally, the Industrial Hygienist became proficient by some combination of education, training, and experience. Ideally, this knowledge is used to anticipate when a hazardous condition may occur and then presumably, take corrective action. But not everything can be anticipated, so the Industrial Hygienist must be able to recognize conditions that could lead to adverse health effects to workers or a community population. Once anticipated or recognized, the hazard could then be evaluated and eventually controlled to eliminate or reduce the impact of the hazard.
Since the term Industrial Hygienist has not been restricted by law, anyone, regardless of knowledge and competency, can call themselves an “Industrial Hygienist”. To aid employers and the public, a voluntary professional certification program was established in 1960. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) was established as an independent corporation with the sole purpose of providing a certification program that ensured a minimum level of knowledge and skills in industrial hygiene. The ABIH program has since become the world’s largest, premier certification scheme for Industrial Hygienists. Certification is a professional milestone, providing a 3rd party, independent indicator of achievement.
For additional background information, review the American Industrial Hygiene Association summary of industrial hygiene and the role of the Industrial Hygienist.