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Written by Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH, Vice-President and Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
November 7, 2018
Workplace exposures to agents that can cause injury to employees are generally restricted to physical, chemical or biological sources. It’s not just the factory worker who is at risk. Exposures can be presented by a variety of dusts and fibers. Renovating an office can produce gypsum dust, paint solvents, the release of asbestos fibers and hidden mold spores. A poorly running ventilation system may allow the build-up of carbon dioxide in office air, resulting in the 11 o’clock and 3 o’clock slump that many office workers experience. Worse, it could result in Sick Building Syndrome when multiple people are effected even to the extent that they evacuate the building.
Sometimes, truck and automobile exhaust gets pulled into a building’s ventilation system, causing odor complaints and relatively mild feelings of un-wellness. Brush fires involving poison ivy can cause very hard to identify cases of skin, eye and upper respiratory irritation. Blue print machines and even ordinary office copiers can produce irritating emissions. Some janitorial products can also produce a rash of complaints.
The common factor in all these scenarios is that the sources of employee discomfort, illness and complaint are very hard to identify. Industrial Hygienists, who are trained not only to recognize these environmental factors, also can sample, analyze and evaluate the potential for harm these factors may pose, and can make recommendations for alleviating or eliminating the condition. This may be as simple as taking measurements for temperature, relative humidity carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and VOC’s all with direct reading instruments. More complex situations may involve mold, bacteria, sewer gas, odors, chemicals, dust, fire residue and construction dust involving testing that may require laboratory analysis of samples both air and surface.
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