Three Trending Industrial Hygiene Issues

By: Ray Chisti, Contributor

OSHA requires employers to determine if workers are exposed to excessive workplace noise. Employers must implement an effective hearing conservation program where controls are insufficient. © auremar – stock.adobe.com

The Occupational Safety and Health Act establishes an employer’s criteria for protecting employees against health hazards and harmful materials. Industrial hygiene (IH) is the science devoted to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling workplace environmental factors or stresses that may cause illness, injury, impaired health or well-being, or significant discomfort for a worker.

Employers are required to implement some element of an IH or occupational health program. Three common IH issues trending at workplaces today include noise, lighting and ergonomics. By addressing these issues, employers can immediately improve their workplace safety programs.

Noise

OSHA requires employers to determine if workers are exposed to excessive workplace noise. If so, the employer must implement feasible engineering or administrative controls to eliminate or reduce hazardous noise levels. Employers must implement an effective hearing conservation program where controls are insufficient.

OSHA’s occupational noise exposure standard at 1910.95 protects general industry employees, such as those in the manufacturing, utilities and service sectors. It does not cover the construction, or the oil and gas well-drilling and servicing industries.

Evaluating Noise Exposure

The first step toward solving any noise problem is to define it. Employers must determine the level of noise their employees are exposed to in the workplace to determine which control methods are needed to protect worker safety.

When evaluating which employees are potentially covered by OSHA’s standard, remember that the rule applies to employees with even one day of exposure to noise levels at or above 85 decibels on an eight-hour, time-weighted average (TWA).

Employees not exposed to noise levels equal to or exceeding 85 decibels (as an eight-hour TWA) for an entire year following their last annual audiogram may be removed from the hearing conservation program. The next step is to perform an assessment by performing a walk-around sound survey and sampling.

Walkaround Sound Survey

There is only one way to know if noise has reached a dangerous level—by having someone trained conduct a sound survey. Anyone trained to use a sound level meter and a dosimeter and who can evaluate the data should be able to perform the survey. Employers should engage a trained individual to conduct a walk-around sound survey of their workplaces.

The walk-around survey will screen for noise exposures and determine if additional monitoring is necessary. When screening for noise exposures, sound-level meter measurements and estimates of the duration of exposure are sufficient. The resulting spot readings can be used to determine the need for a complete evaluation.

If the results of the walk-around survey indicate TWA exposures of 80 decibels or more, additional noise monitoring should be performed. Employers should take into account the accuracy of the sound level meter when making this estimation. For example, a Type 2 sound level meter has an accuracy of plus or minus 2 decibels.

Workplace lighting must consider quantity, quality, direction and a number of other factors to ensure safety. © WATCH_MEDIA_HOUSE – stock.adobe.com

Lighting

Poor workplace lighting can lead to slips, trips and falls, as well as the inability to exit a space safely; difficulty operating equipment; and a host of other hazards. Workplace lighting must consider quantity, quality, direction and a number of other factors to ensure safety. OSHA does not usually specify the amount of illumination required in the workplace, although there are other standards that indicate recommended levels, depending on the environment and the work being done.

General Industry

OSHA’s general industry regulations, for the most part, do not go into specifics about the amount of illumination required. OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck standard is one of the few places where a specific illumination level is given. Paragraph 1910.178(h)(2) states: “Where general lighting is less than 2 lumens per square foot, auxiliary directional lighting shall be provided on the truck.” OSHA also addresses adequate lighting in the exit routes rule at 1910.37(b).

Construction

For the construction industry, OSHA sets minimum illumination standards for certain locations, such as general construction areas, warehouses, corridors, exits, tunnels and underground work areas, and more.

OSHA requires in 1926.56(a) that construction areas, ramps, runways, corridors, offices, shops and storage areas shall be lighted to not less than the minimum illumination intensities listed in Table D-3—Minimum Illumination Intensities In Foot-Candles while any work is in progress.

Consensus Standard

There is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for industrial lighting that is incorporated by reference (ANSI A11.1-65—Practice for Industrial Lighting) in the OSHA standards for mechanical power-transmission apparatus (1910.219(c)(5)(iii)), pulp and paper mills (1910.261(a)(3)), and sawmills (1910.265(c)(2)).

In general, OSHA uses the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act to cite most hazards related to poorly-lit workplaces, often referencing the ANSI standard (which is now replaced by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) RP-7: Practice For Industrial Lighting).

This industry standard provides recommended levels based on the type of work being done and the environment. Lighting needs vary, depending on such things as the amount of activity, the hazard of the environment and other factors—generally ranging from .5 foot-candles for low-hazard areas (e.g., offices) to 5.0 for high hazards and activity levels (such as machine shops or engine rooms). Lighting can be either artificial or natural.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics, or fitting a job to a person, is a process that helps lessen muscle fatigue; increases productivity; and reduces the number and severity of work-related injuries to the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. Even though there is no specific ergonomics regulation, OSHA will continue to cite ergonomics-related hazards under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Section 5.

Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers. The number and severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) resulting from physical overexertion and their associated costs can be substantially reduced by applying ergonomic principles.

Implementing an ergonomic process can effectively reduce the risk of developing MSDs in high-risk industries as diverse as construction, food processing, manufacturing, office jobs, healthcare, transportation and warehousing.

Assessing and Preventing Ergonomics Hazards

The number and severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) resulting from physical overexertion and their associated costs can be substantially reduced by applying ergonomic principles. © Antonioguillem – stock.adobe.com

Detecting and preventing ergonomics hazards in the workplace can often be easy. Employers can address the issue by:

  • Establishing an ergonomics program and
  • Providing and encouraging employees to participate in the ergonomics program and in decisions affecting their safety and health.

Some types of tasks or work conditions which may affect employees include:

  • Regular repetitive tasks,
  • Forceful exertions,
  • Inappropriate tools,
  • Vibrations from power tools,
  • Poor body mechanics,
  • Restrictive workstations,
  • Awkward postures and
  • Lifting heavy or awkward objects.

Employers can control MSD hazards by properly designing the job or workstation and selecting the appropriate tools or equipment. Based on information from the job analysis, an employer can establish procedures to correct or control risk factors by using:

  • Appropriate engineering controls,
  • Proper work practices,
  • Administrative controls and
  • Personal protective equipment.

Effective ergonomic programs should include the following:

  • Management commitment and employee participation,
  • Job hazard analysis,
  • Controlling ergonomic risk,
  • Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) management and
  • Training and education.

Follow the guidance in this article to reduce workplace ergonomics hazards, noise exposures and lighting hazards. Ensure you talk with your workers and get their perspective too!

About the Author

Ray Chishti joined J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. in 2017 as a Workplace Safety Editor. Previously, Ray worked as an EH&S professional in auditing, management and executive leadership positions with new construction, operating facilities and large EPC projects. He has 20 years of EH&S experience in various industries, including fossil fuel power plants and utility distribution and transmission work. He holds a Juris Doctor with a concentration in Occupational Safety & Health and is an OSHA-authorized trainer for general industry and construction.

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