Occupational Hygienist


Occupational hygienists maintain workplace health and safety by identifying, evaluating, and controlling exposure to chemical, physical, ergonomic, and biological hazards. The responsibilities of an occupational hygienist vary depending on the industry, workplace, and the types of hazards affecting employees. Occupational hygienists most often work in companies to reduce stresses on the worker and to implement control measures that will reduce the incidences of impaired health and sickness and identify inefficiencies in the workplace.

At a glance

Imagine you are standing on an airport tarmac next to an enormous 747 airplane. The pilot has just started the plane's engines, and even with protective earmuffs, it's still noisy. But that is why you are here. You are an occupational hygienist and you have just begun an evaluation of your city's brand-new airport. You will spend the next few weeks using a variety of instruments to measure the levels of potential hazards in and around the airport. You want to make certain that employees of the multimillion-dollar complex have a safe, healthy work environment.As an occupational hygienist, you're working at the airport to ensure sufficient measures are in place to protect employees from potential hazards. You start by assessing noise pollution. Employees must be sufficiently shielded from the noise of airplanes taxiing, taking off, and landing so as not to damage their hearing. You check that noise levels inside hangars and the terminal building do not exceed acceptable workplace limits. In situations where employees must be on the tarmac when jet engines are running, you check that adequate hearing protection has been provided and is being used properly.You will also measure air quality on the tarmac to ensure that exhaust from airplanes and the airport's vehicles are not threatening employees' health, as well as air quality inside the terminal to see if the building's ventilation system is providing enough fresh air. The thousands of employees who work at the airport are counting on your evaluation to make their workplace safe.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an occupational hygienist:
  • Identify hazardous conditions and practices in equipment, systems, products, and facilities.
  • Evaluate hazard levels.
  • Develop methods to predict hazards from experience, historical data, and other information sources.
  • Examine the probability and severity of accidents and illnesses that may result from hazardous practices and harmful exposure.
  • Monitor workplaces for airborne substances and noise to ensure workplace standards are not exceeded and that control systems are properly designed.
  • Identify and evaluate methods to control hazards, such as engineering controls, administrative controls, and protective equipment.
  • Conduct training sessions with employees on the health and safety practices and policies of their work environment.
  • Evaluate the progress of health and safety plans after their implementation.
  • Test and evaluate control systems, for example noise and ventilation systems, as well as personal protective equipment.
  • Prepare accident reports, including observations and suggestions for how the accident could have been avoided.

Work environment

Occupational hygienists work in a variety of locations, including:In the office:
  • Researching and analyzing data, preparing reports, and writing papers
  • Presenting results and providing advice to management
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
In the field:
  • Observing work environments
  • Taking samples, conducting tests, and evaluating workplace procedures and equipment
  • Conducting training sessions

Where to work

There are a number of places where occupational hygienists can find employment. They include:
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Industry, for example manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, transportation, and forestry
  • Public organizations, for example hospitals, universities, and school boards
  • Consulting firms

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an occupational hygienist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • English
  • Calculus
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an occupational hygienist is a university undergraduate degree.If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an occupational hygienist, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Environmental Health
  • Toxicology
  • Pure and Applied Science
  • Environmental Science
Certification is not mandatory in order to work as an occupational hygienist, though most practitioners choose to become certified through the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists (CRBOH).

Role Model

Jean Westergard

Responsible companies that use industrial chemicals rely heavily on professionals such as Jean Westergard to make sure that their raw materials and products do not become a health or safety hazard for employees or the public."My company produces bleach and fabric softener - products made from potentially hazardous chemicals such as chlorine," Miss Westergard explains. "As an environmental health and safety technician, my job is to make sure that those materials don't become a problem.""My work is divided into two areas, environmental and safety. On the environmental side, I conduct air monitoring and sampling, monitor waste disposal, and keep close tabs on the treatment of waste effluents. My findings are reported both to company management and to the government."On the safety side, I do regular safety checks, investigate accidents, help workers with compensation claims, and make sure safety equipment is working properly. I also do a lot of exposure monitoring - such as dust, fume and noise testing." Jean's job also requires excellent communications skills because an important dimension of her job is teaching others how to work safely with hazardous substances. "I do lots of training on topics such as the transportation of dangerous goods, and workplace hazardous materials information systems," Jean says. "It all contributes to making this plant safe for people and the environment."