An Introduction to Industrial Hygiene

Industrial Hygiene Image

Ever heard about industrial hygiene without really knowing what it is or what an industrial hygienist does?

Well fear no more, friend, because we’ve teamed up with a real-life industrial hygienist to explain it all to us.

In this interview, Morgan Bliss, an industrial hygienist and an Assistant Professor in the Safety Management Department at Central Washington University, is kind enough to walk us through a comprehensive introduction to the field. So get ready to learn everything you ever wanted to know about IH! Not only that, Morgan:

  • Prepared her own PowerPoint presentation to walk us through this discussion–you’ll see her slides below
  • Included her own original artwork in that PowerPoint–you’ll see Morgan’s IH-themed drawings below too

We’ve got a recorded video of the discussion below. If you’d prefer to read instead of listen, we’ve also typed up a transcript, so just click MORE in that case.

Also, remember that Morgan will be coming back to discuss the hierarchy of controls in a second interview soon.


Convergence: OK, hello, everybody. Hi, welcome, and thanks so much for listening in (or reading) today’s podcast. We’ve got a pretty cool guest with us today we’re excited to be able to share, and today we’ll be talking about some basics related to industrial hygiene.

So today we have Morgan Bliss. Morgan is an assistant professor in the Safety and Health Management Program at Central Washington University, she’s an industrial hygienist, and we’re excited to have her come in and talk to us in the first of at least two interviews.

This time, we’ll be talking about some basics related to IH (industrial hygiene), and then she’s been nice enough to agree to come back and talk about the next logical step, which is the hierarchy of controls, so that will be a future webinar as well.

With that introduction, we hope you all have a fun time, that you learn a lot, and we welcome and thank Morgan. Hi Morgan, how are you doing today?

Morgan Bliss: Great, how are you?

Convergence Training: Doing well, thank you. Thanks again for coming on and sharing your information with us, and I wonder if you could start by telling us who you are, what you do, and what’s your interest and experience in industrial hygiene?

Morgan Bliss: Sure thing. So like you said, my name is Morgan Bliss, I’m an assistant professor in the Safety and Health Management Program at CWU (Central Washington University), that’s within the Engineering, Technology, Safety, and Construction department, which is a long name.

Prior to joining academia in 2016, I did ten years as an occupational safety and health consultant, primarily in the Southwest, specializing in health care, power plants, things like that, and so from 2006-2016, that’s what I did.

I started as an industrial hygienist right out of college. I answered a newspaper ad for people with a Microbiology or Chemistry degree and I was like “Sweet, that will work!” I did various projects in program management roles, worked my way into environmental, worked my way into safety, got my CIH and my CSP, got a master’s degree, and I was like “This is enough, I think I’m going to go teach.”

Convergence Training: Alright, good intro. And Morgan’s been nice enough to create a PowerPoint with some visuals for our talk, so I think….is this when you’re going to transition to the PowerPoint, Morgan?

Morgan Bliss: It sure is. Are you ready?

Convergence Training: I am, I am. I think we all are.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Industrial Hygiene…But Were Afraid to Ask

Convergence Training: So if you’re going to talk to us about industrial hygiene, maybe I can ask you to start, for those of us who don’t know, by explaining why industrial hygiene is, how it’s related to safety and health in general, and to occupational safety and health in particular?

What Is Industrial Hygiene Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss: Sure. So industrial hygienists are sometimes called the science-y nerdy types of safety, so a lot of them like to give the textbook answer. So I’ll give you the textbook answer first, and then I’ll give you my actual answer.

So the textbook answer is the one that the American Industrial Hygiene Association has written, and which I summarize here on the slide (above), so I’ll read it to you real fast. It says:

Industrial hygiene defined: Industrial Hygiene is a science and an art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, prevention, and control of those environmental factors and stresses arising in or from the workplace which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort among workers or among citizens in the community.

Source: American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)

Morgan Bliss, continued: So what’s cool about that is it’s not just based on immediate harm, it’s not just focused on the workers but it’s also focused on the community, it’s focused on well-being, and on comfort.

The International Labor Organization says that:

Industrial Hygiene Defined, Version 2: Industrial Hygiene is the prevention and control of hazards arising from the work processes.”

Source: International Labor Organization

Morgan Bliss, continued: And everywhere else in the world that isn’t the United States, they pretty much call it occupational hygiene, so if you’re searching for information about industrial hygiene, and if you’re wondering “Why am I only getting US stuff?” that’s why: you have to search “occupational hygiene” if you want to learn more about occupational hygiene on the international realm.

What Is Industrial Hygiene, Answer 2

So, my interesting answer is…let me move my slide forward here…

Second What Is Industrial Hygiene Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss, continued: So my interesting answer is that industrial hygiene is awesome because it’s applied problem-solving, every day. Every day involves all of those “21st-Century skills” that we want to have, that we need in the competitive workplace. So you’ve got that global awareness component, you’ve got financial literacy, because there’s a cost to doing controls. You’ve got health literacy, because IH is a very health-based field. You have environmental literacy, you understand that everything we do has a potential environmental impact. It involves creativity, which I’m keen on. It involves critical thinking and problem solving, lots and lots of communication, information literacy, productivity, adaptability, responsibility, all of it.

So industrial hygiene is a really technically demanding, challenging, awesome field, but it’s primarily focused on, according to the American Board of Industrial Hygiene, who certifies Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs), on giving priority to health and safety issues related to the protection of people.

So that’s my interesting answer.

Who Works in Industrial Hygiene & What Are Their Qualifications?

Convergence Training: Alright, that was a great answer in two parts. Thanks for the official answer, thanks for the “Morgan” answer, and special thanks–you are the first interviewee I’ve ever worked with who provided her own creative artwork. So well done, thank you very much for that.

So, if that’s what IH is, maybe as a follow-up you can explain to us what kind of people work in industrial hygiene, and what kind of education and specialties do they have?

How to Become an Industrial Hygienist Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss: Sure. So, how do you become an industrial hygienist?

In my case, I did not follow the traditional route. There are four basic ways.

The traditional route is you go to a four-year undergraduate institution, you go through a program in industrial hygiene or environmental, health, and safety, and you continue until you become an industrial hygienist. So you get your degree and you get your job.

The second way is the way I did it. You go to a four-year undergraduate institution in some other science- or engineering-related field. So I graduated with a degree in Microbiology and Chemistry, I knew I was really bad at lab work (my lab partner kindly asked me to not go into lab work), so I was like “What else do you do with this degree?” So you get into a related field, it could be Environmental Science, it could be Physics, it could be Biology, Chemistry, Safety, an Engineering field, and then you continue until you become an industrial hygienist, which is such an interdisciplinary field that it works with other degrees.

The third way that you can do this is to go to a two-year institution with a program in Industrial Hygiene or a related field, and then you continue into become an Industrial Hygiene Technician. The trick is you can’t sit for the Certified Industrial Hygienist exam if you don’t have a four-year degree. That’s not an option. So option three is to be an Industrial Hygiene Technician. And if you have an undergraduate degree in, oh, Renaissance History or English or Psychology or something, and you’re like “I really want to get into Industrial Hygiene,” that’s fine, but you’ll probably have to do a graduate program in Industrial Hygiene or a related field before you can become an industrial hygienist because, as you can see on the slide (above), you have to have 180 academic contact hours or 240 continuing education hours in a certain topic to be able to sit for the Certified Industrial Hygienist exam, it includes things like fundamentals of industrial hygiene, toxicology, control methods, a little bit of environmental, but they won’t even let you apply or sit for the exam unless you have these requirements.

You also have to have two hours of ethics training, which is nice. And in order to sit for the CIH exam, you can’t just do this straight out of school. You have to have a certain level of experience. So if you don’t have a graduate degree, or an industrial hygiene-related degree, you have to have four more years of experience. If you have a master’s degree in IH or a bachelor’s degree in an AIBH-accredited IH program, there are way less requirements for experience, so that’s cool, if you decide to go to one of those schools.

So, how do you do it? You can go about it a whole lot of ways. But those four are the most basic (or common).

And as far as specialties go, my specialty was healthcare (still is, I hope). You can specialize in manufacturing, you can specialize in construction, you can specialize in disaster management, you can specialize in laboratory and research environments. I was a consultant, so you can specialize in consulting, there are lots of different ways you can go.

Convergence Training: Alright, great, good answer. Thanks for spelling all of that out. Two points about that: one, I literally just completed an IH course yesterday, and my instructor followed your path as well, studied Biology and Chemistry, and fell into IH by accident if you will. I think that’s common–I fell into my career by accident, I’m an English Lit major who is working in Industrial Design.

The other thing is that, as you said, in a changing workplace, people are going to have to constantly refresh their skills and possibly enter new careers. So while it’s nice to see that there’s an official or normal way for IH when you go to college, study IH, and then practice IH in your career, there are alternate paths into that, because we’re all going to be essentially re-inventing ourselves over time.

What Does an IH Do on a Daily Basis?

Convergence Training: OK, so if we’ve talked about what IH is and who does IH, then what does an IH do on a day-to-day basis and especially in an occupational context?

Morgan Bliss: Sure. So, it’s a very long answer, if I were to give you the complete answer. So what I wanted to do was to kind of use a project as an example. And I worked as an Environmental, Health, and Safety manager/program manager for a healthcare system in Arizona, so I’ve done the managerial side, I’ve done the consulting side, but I want to come at this from the consulting side, because I think a lot of new industrial hygienists or people who have their first interactions with an industrial hygienist are usually dealing with a consultant: you need to get something done, you don’t have in-house support to do it, so you sub it out.

So you want to know kind of what they’re thinking and what their process is, so that’s how I’m going to go about answering this. So, using a project as an example, let’s assume that you are the industrial hygienist for a manufacturing company. What do they make–it doesn’t really matter. But you’re notified that a couple of your workers have experienced hearing damage, and they identified it during the annual physical exam, and management wants to know what’s up with it. They want to have the noise source evaluated, and they want you as their presence to recommend controls. But also, while you’re there–and this happens all they time, they say “Since you’re going to be there anyway, can you do these eight other things too?”

So, while you’re there, they want you to check dust levels, or particulate levels, because workers have been complaining about persistent coughs. So we’ve got two things now, we’ve got noise and we’ve got dust.

So, if I was to anticipate the project, ideally it would go like this: it doesn’t always (see image below).

What Does an Industrial Hygienist Do Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss, continued: First, you’d meet with the client. Whoever the client is whoever wants this service from you. You meet with the management team and the workers of the site. And they’re going to tell you what they think they need, because that’s valuable information.

And them you’re going to research the site and the complaints, the equipment, the substances used. Find out what they want and what’s happening at the site.

And then–ideally, again–you like to do site walk-throughs before. So sometimes, industrial hygienists will get some flak on their proposals for “extra time,” but you don’t want the first time that we step onto your site to be the first time we’ve seen your site. There’s stuff that we can evaluate from that initial site walk-through that helps us form our proposal, that makes it more accurate, and that helps us do a better assessment. So ideally you do an initial site walk through, get first impressions, and then you’d write the proposal.

Now I’m not saying that if you are doing this in house that you have to write a proposal per se, but industrial hygiene monitoring for the most part costs money. It’s either the cost of the consultant, the cost of the equipment, the cost of the sampling, or, if you have most of this stuff in-house, then you are just paying for the laboratory analysis, but you will need to have an idea of how much that costs.

So you write the proposal or budget, figuring out how long you need to spend on site. Is it multiple days? Is it one day? What equipment do you need? Are there lab fees? How fast do they need the laboratory analysis? Is it five days, or do they need it in two? You know, all costs are different.

So, once you’ve developed the proposal, then you develop the sampling test plan as part of the proposal. In the sampling plan, you’re asking things like: How many workers am I monitoring for noise? Am I doing a full indoor environmental quality assessment, or am I just looking at dust and particulates? Am I doing air sampling? Am I doing worker sampling? Am I doing both? What’s the budget with this company? Because sometimes you have to scale back the sampling plan: you might give them the Cadillac version when all they want is the Kia version.

So, once you’ve developed that sampling plan, you submit it and you do the sampling. Well, first you order your equipment, I got ahead of myself.

So, you’ve got the sampling plan, the client approves it, they say “go for it,” then you show up with all of the equipment and media you ordered, making sure you ordered the right stuff, and then you go to the site and you do the monitoring.

This usually involves us watching the workers worker, which is really irritating for workers. And they always say stuff like “Wish I had your job,” and you’re like “Yeah, I’m going to go back to my office and work another five hours after this, after watching you work all day, so maybe…” It’s a really weird thing to watch people work, but we have to, because we’re making sure that the job hazard analysis (that they may or may not have given you) is accurate. And we’re making sure that the tasks that people are doing aren’t going to compromise the samples in any way.

So–an important note on air sampling: it needs to follow the NOISH Manual of Analytical Methods or the laboratory requirements. So there are all of these adapters, and filters, and it looks very sci-fi, it’s very cool, to do that sampling.

And then you submit that to the laboratory, you wait for the results, when the results are back you compare them to the relevant standards or regulations, you determine if they’re above or below as far as the exposure goes, and you include that information in the report.

So that’s how a normal project goes. And the daily activities can consist of any of those things.

Types of Hazards Industrial Hygienists Work With

Convergence Training: Alright, good, that was nice, kind of walking us through it. A case study, if you will.

So, in this example, your hazards were noise and dust (or airborne particulates). In addition to that, since you’ve agreed to come back and talk about controls, we’ll kind of table that discussion until later, but maybe you could tell us more about the general types of hazards that are out there in the workplace and that workers should be aware of.

Morgan Bliss: Sure thing, I have a lovely slide for that (below).

Workplace Hazards List Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss, continued: The general types of hazards–again, if you specialize, then you’ll only be dealing with the things that you specialize in–are shown in this list I retrieved from the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organization (INSHPO). They have an Occupational Safety and Health Practitioner capabilities framework that identifies all the hazards that occupational health and safety specialists, including industrial hygienists, need to be aware of, and they split it out in this really nice, organized way.

So first would be biomechanical, like lifting and handling and repetitive strain. If you’re more of an ergonomics specialist, that’s more where you’re focusing your efforts.

Where we do a lot of effort is chemicals. So, toxics, carcinogenics, corrosives, sensitizers, things like that. I am not an expert in nanoparticles by any means, but you can specialize in nanoparticles.

Then you can look at thermal hazards, like heat and cold. Those ones are deceptive, you’d thing they’d be really simple, but they’re not.

Next is noise and vibration. They like to lump them together, but I prefer to separate them because they’re different issues.

One thing that industrial hygienists are heavily involved in is indoor environmental quality or indoor air quality. So the classics things you’ve got to look at include ventilation, lighting, mold, water damage, and things like that. And that’s a real hot topic and has been for about 15 years.

And next we get into psychosocial hazards, like the effects of stress and fatigue, assisting with workplace violence planning.

One of the ones that is my passion, because of my microbiology background, are biological hazards. I find that very interesting.

Then we’ve got infectious diseases, and that’s probably why I specialize in health care.

And then ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, you can also be a specialist in that.

So that’s some of the hazards people can be exposed to and that industrial hygienists may work with. But that’s not even all of them–that’s the pretty version.

Teaching Employees to Recognize Hazards at Work

Convergence Training: That’s a good list. You know, I anticipated most of them, but I wasn’t anticipating psychosocial, although it makes sense. I know an example that you’re really interested in is that there was a recent study on Safety and Health Empowerment for Women in (Construction) Trades, or SHEWT. And that all dealt with issues related to work stress from being a woman in a masculine workplace. So I hadn’t anticipated psychosocial on this list, but it makes total sense as well.

So obviously one of the big responsibilities of working in IH and being an industrial hygienist is to recognize hazards, and we said we’d table this issue of controls until our next interview, but is it also important not just for the IH to be able to do this, but also for the employees to be able to do recognize these hazards, and if so, do you in particular have tips for how to teach employees to recognize that hazards at work?

Morgan Bliss: One of the big concerns that I see a lot, both with new industrial hygienists and also established industrial hygienists, is that they’re always in their office. And there’s probably a good reason for that–they’re probably doing a bunch of research, and they’re probably very overworked.

Recognizing Safety and Health Hazards Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss, continued: But how I did it when I was working in that health care facility, and also as a consultant, is you have to get out of your office and talk to workers. If you don’t understand how work is actually being done at your facility, as opposed to how you think it’s being done, with the procedures and the policies and what-not, you’re not going to be able to to recognize hazards, and neither are they.

So, recognizing hazards is already done as part of safety management. You’re looking at air contaminants, chemical issues, biological issues, physical issues, ergonomic issues. They get some decent training in how to identify hazards.

But what industrial hygienists really add is that focus on preventing that exposure in the first place. Like–I don’t want to have to mitigate the exposure, I just don’t ever want to have them. I want to plan my process well-enough ahead of time that we’ve already identified the issues.

And another thing that I do when I’m out wandering around with the workers figuring out what they’re doing, is a lot of the times they’d be focused on just the immediate issue. They’d be like: “This isn’t going to burn me NOW. It’s not going to melt my skin, it’s not going to irritate my skin, it’s not going to get in my eye, I’m fine now.” And I’ll say “But you don’t know, because I know you didn’t read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), you don’t know what it’s going to do in the future, with all of your chronic use of this chemical…we don’t necessarily know what it’s going to do, because we don’t have the toxicological data for that.”

So focusing on those chronic effects of things and considering them, and focusing on synergism–like, how two things can interact and create a much more substantial effect, and that’s usually listed in the Safety Data Sheets. Employees know how to do their job better than I do, so I’m not going to stand there with my clipboard and evaluate them. I need to help them understand that their work is potentially hazardous both in the immediate and in the long-term. So it’s really staying ahead of your project, and staying ahead of any changes, in order to see if you’re going to have synergistic effects or see if you’re going to be working with a chemical that’s known to have chronic health effects.

Convergence Training: Good call. So, I like the emphasis on chronic effects and on synergism. Tell me if I’m wrong here, but I could boil those down with an example of asbestos. Asbestos is going to create a chronic effect through accumulated exposures over time, and it’s a lot easier for me as a worker to know I don’t want to put my hand on a hot stove because I get the message of immediate pain that’s very obvious, but that chronic problem from asbestos is maybe a little easier for me to blow off and not worry about. And then, if I’m correct, asbestos exposure has a negative synergistic effect if I’m a smoker as well. Is that correct, is that a good example?

Morgan Bliss: Big time, yes. And most of the asbestos workers that I work with had a very devil-may-care attitude about it. They’re like, “Well, something’s going to kill me,” and I respond “Does it have to be dying slowly by choking or lung cancer? Couldn’t it be anything else?” And there are different numbers on whole asbestos & smoking thing. Some people say it’s five times more likely, others say it’s as high as ninety, I don’t know the real number, because it keeps changing. But there are lots of other chemicals with synergistic effects, and again, with the toxicological lack of data, we don’t really know, so there could be chemicals that we’re working with that we THINK are safe, but they’re not, and we won’t know that for another 20 years.

Note: Read more about occupational exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma here.

The Industrial Hygiene Practice in 5 Steps: A Cycle

Convergence Training: Right. OK, good point as well.

Next question: Is there kind of a general industrial hygiene process that you can walk us through at a kind of high level?

Morgan Bliss: Sure. So, let me pull up a picture (see below).

IH Anticipate-Recognize-Evaluate-Control-Confirm Cycle Image

Note: Morgan created the PowerPoint slide and drew the artwork above. Thanks to Morgan for doing this.

Morgan Bliss, continued: This is NOT mine. This is the classic industrial hygiene paradigm. But I don’t know that industrial hygienists have communicated this out.

Usually when people learn about industrial hygienists, they’re safety professionals or environmental people, and they learn three of these: they learn recognize, evaluate, and control. They learn REC. And if they go to one of the OSHA Training Institute classes, they might learn anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control, or A

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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