The mysteries of chemistry

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In the early days of our profession, most occupational hygienists were probably originally analytical chemists. They would carry out sampling and then analyse the samples they’d collected. Their background meant that they had an in-depth knowledge of chemical principles.

These days things have changed. In my experience a large proportion of people moving into the profession and studying BOHS modules, and even taking University courses in occupational hygiene, do not have a chemical background. In many cases, they may not have studied chemistry for quite a few years. Unfortunately the BOHS module syllabi assume a good understanding of chemistry, and this is reflected in the examinations. As time is limited on the module courses its not really possible for us to go through chemical principles (although we try and help where we can). So it’s a good idea for anyone intending to take the courses who feels that their chemical knowledge is rusty to “gen up” before they attend any of the courses focusing on chemical hazards.

A useful resource, that can be downloaded from the web, is the review of chemistry in chapter 4 of The Industrial Environment – its Evaluation and Control. Often known as the “White book”, it was published by American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) in 1973 and used to be one of the main textbooks in the field. So it’s quite an old resource, but later texts haven’t included anything on chemistry. However, the principles  haven’t changed since 1973 and the chapter is still relevant. There are plenty of other resources on chemistry on the web, but the chapter in the White Book is particularly useful as it concentrates on principles that are most relevant to occupational hygiene.

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