"[Industrial] hygienists study the health impacts of the working environment,"
explains Stewart Sampson. He is an industrial hygienist. "They try to anticipate,
evaluate and control exposures to chemical or physical agents that may injure
Companies use industrial hygienists to ensure a healthy and pleasant workplace,
to save losses from sick days, disgruntled workers and possible lawsuits,
and to satisfy government regulations concerning workplace safety. Governments
use industrial hygienists to ensure compliance with regulations.
Grady Russell is an industrial hygienist. Russell says that while many
outside the field aren't familiar with the exact methods of it, many are familiar
with some of the medical conditions looked for and the terminology used by
For instance, the term "occupational hazard" is now a common one. Most
people now know that working in noisy places causes tinnitus, a chronic ringing
in the ears.
It's also common knowledge that carpal tunnel syndrome (inflammation of
hand tendons because of repetitive use) frequently affects people such as
musicians, dental hygienists, meat cutters and cashiers.
Kathy Smolynec is an industrial hygienist for a railway company. She says
she enjoys the oddity and often pioneering feeling of her work. "It's very
different," she says. "It's an uncommon job. Few people know what you do.
You're often working in an area no one else has worked in before."
She adds that there's an exciting element of investigation to industrial
hygiene. "It's very much detective work," she says.
Smolynec says navigating the sometimes-tense relationship between workers
and employers is a difficult part of her job.
"What I dislike is how skeptical people are," she says. "Sometimes, to
management, I'm seen to be some kind of rabble rouser. That politicizes what
should be an objective, scientific study [of workplace health concerns]."
Smolynec says that sometimes it's workers who are dubious of industrial
hygienists. She describes a time she was asked to investigate whether a radio
could be causing employees' digestive tract troubles. Smolynec says that the
particular radio in question isn't known to have this kind of effect.
"I was describing to a group of employees why there's no way a radio receiver
could be causing [the] stomach problems they were having," she says. "I heard
one person say, 'She has to say that. Otherwise, she'd get fired.'"
Smolynec says that after studying them, she believed fear of the radio
caused the workers mild anxiety. The anxiety in turn was probably causing
their stomach problems.
Tom Grumbles, an industrial hygienist, says hygienists work in several
settings, each with different hours. "The work environment is highly variable,"
"Many hygienists are located at one facility and will spend much of their
time outside in the workplace observing and measuring the environment and
workplace. Some work in a consulting or corporate role, and travel is a routine
part of their jobs."
Since this job may often involve physical inspection of plants, factories
and facilities, people with visual impairments may encounter some challenges
entering this line of work.
John Orser, an industrial hygienist, says that his work is deeply satisfying.
"When I do or say something that informs a worker about an aspect of their
work that they did not know, I see the light of understanding in their eyes,"
"By my evaluation of the workplace, I provide the means for worker health
protection, preventing human injury and protecting management investment,"