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Industrial Hygiene: It’s All About Worker Health and Safety – Part III of V – Exposure Monitoring: Chemicals and Biological

Table of Contents

What is Exposure Monitoring?

Industrial Hygiene deals with planning for or anticipating, identifying, analyzing, and finding ways to control workers’ exposure to dangerous elements. In the identifying phase, Industrial Hygienists determine how much, while performing their job, a worker is exposed to a danger in terms of frequency, duration, and magnitude. In the prior two blogs of this series, we discussed Industrial Hygiene as it relates to silica and noise, and there are many other agents in occupational settings that need to be watched. These include radiation and physical, chemical, and biological agents.

Chemical Exposure Monitoring

Typically, chemical exposure is monitored by measuring the amount of airborne chemical in a worker’s environment, in the form of gases, vapors, or dust particles. The Industrial Hygienist will analyze the area and set up equipment suitable to measure the chemicals in question over a specified amount of time. Sometimes, this involves the worker wearing monitoring equipment as they perform their tasks throughout their workday. Afterwards, the results of the measurements will be compared to standard permissible exposure limits and if necessary, recommendations will be made to eliminate or control the amount of chemical exposure. Common chemicals that need monitoring include solvents, formaldehyde, asbestos, lead, isocyanates, chromium, silica, dust, fumes, and diesel exhaust; but the overall list is much longer than that, especially in laboratory, industrial, and manufacturing settings.

Exposure Monitoring for Biological Agents

Biological agents include bacteria, viruses, fungi—including mold and yeasts, human parasites, and the toxins that any of them may produce. Except for obvious fungal growth, the agents are invisible, so not an obvious risk, and can infect with a very small dose. OSHA refers to protection for workers based on individual biological agents and the industries most likely to encounter them. Often, there is no standard per se, but other standards such as the one for personal protective equipment (PPE) or the one for bloodborne pathogens may apply. In the case of Legionella, OSHA does not have a standard, but The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) devised a standard for managing risk associated with building water systems and this has been put into law in certain states and cities.

As part of the identification phases of industrial hygiene for biological agents, exposure monitoring is performed when suspicion of an agent is present, or as part of a mandated process. It involves collecting air samples, water samples, soil samples, or the use of swabs. Equipment for measuring biological agents is not as far along as chemical detection devices in terms of reliability, portability, and sensitivity. Also, biological agents can reproduce, so measurements can vary greatly over time. In many cases, measurements will provide an identification of species or their associated toxins and a count for one moment in time. Depending on the results of the measurements, further action may be recommended to help solve the problem.

At RPF Environmental, we support our customers with a variety of industrial hygiene services, and we are well practiced at exposure monitoring.

Industrial Hygiene: It’s All About Worker Health and Safety

Stay tuned for the more information about industrial hygiene services in the following two parts of this series!

Call us at 603-942-5432 today to find out how we can support your industrial hygiene control program.

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