This blog has been set up as a forum for Diamond Environmental Ltd. to communicate with people attending our courses for occupational hygienists.
To get things started I thought I’d make a few comments about what occupational hygiene is. I’m sure most people think that its something to do with cleaning out the works toilets or possibly cleaning teeth.
What is it about then? Well the definition of hygiene provided by the online dictionary http://dictionary.reference.com/ is
- The science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health.
- Conditions and practices that serve to promote or preserve health
In other words its about preventing ill health, so occupational hygiene is simply about preventing ill health caused by work.
In Great Britain, according to official statistics, 229 workers were killed at work in 2007/8 due to accidents. Its relatively easy to gather this sort of information – its very difficult to hide the fact that somebody has been killed. But its considerably more difficult to obtain accurate figures on the number of people who die due to a disease they’ve contracted due to their work. As most industrial disease takes many years to develop the individuals may have moved job, or even retired. Some diseases can have more than one cause (some work related, others not) and its not always easy to decide exactly what caused it. So statistics on ill health at work are not absolutely certain. One fatal disease that is almost always work related is mesothelioma of the pleura, a cancer of the lung lining which is caused by exposure to certain types of asbestos. In 2006, two thousand and fifty six (2056) people in Great Britain died due to mesothelioma, almost ten times as many as were killed by accidents at work. (The numbers are increasing and are expected to peak at around 2450 deaths in 2015.) And that’s only one work related disease. There are others including other types of cancer, other lung diseases, such as silicosis, and diseases affecting other organs. On an international scale, the World Health Organisation estimates that there are around two million work-related deaths per year.
Of course not everyone dies from disease. Work related ill health can have other impacts on life, causing discomfort, pain and disability. Its difficult to obtain reliable statistics on this, but a survey by the UK Health and Safety Executive indicated that 2.1 million people in Great Britain suffer from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work.
So ill health caused by work is a serious problem, even if its not as visible as the results of accidents at work. Occupational hygienists work to reduce the number of people affected. We do that by
- recognising where there are potential problems that could cause ill health
- evaluating the degree of risk – i.e. how serious the problem is in practice
- finding ways to control the risk