Occupational Hygiene.. What’s that again?

Updated: May 24

I had no idea what this was until second year when Dr. C attended our Physiology class to give a talk on a third year module, Industrial Physiology. I was at a point where I knew that I did not want to work in a laboratory - so I became very curious about it and decided to do my own research.

So, what is occupational hygiene?🤔🤔🤔

No, it has nothing to do with cleaning. Basically, we are responsible for ensuring compliance in the workplace and for preventing occupational diseases. However, if you want the textbook definition, this is how it goes; “ Occupational hygiene is the science of anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of hazards which may arise in or from the workplace, and which may impair the health and well-being of workers."

What kind of educational background is required?

A Bachelor of Science Honours degree is required, which can be completed at the University of Pretoria. The North West University in Potchefstroom also offers a four-year Bachelor of Health Science in Occupational Hygiene.

What does the job involve?

An occupational hygiene consultant normally begins their day in the early hours of the morning – it is all dependent on who you work for. If you work for an Approved Inspection Authority, then you will most likely work for big manufacturing companies or mines as a contractor. However, there are some consultants who travel across the country and beyond contracting occupational hygiene services. There are a variety of work stressors that we measure namely; physical agents such as, heat and noise; ergonomic stressors such as inadequate lifting procedures and working postures; chemical, biological and psychological stressors. For example, when conducting noise surveys we use a device known as Sound Level Meter which will detect the noise levels that employees are exposed to, if the noise levels exceed a certain limit; then control measures need to be put in place to either decrease the levels and/ or protect the worker by providing them with the necessary hearing protection devices.

Things I do not like...

Reports. After every survey – you need to conduct your research and write up a report. This can be very exhausting – so you need to make sure that you love reading because you will do a lot of it. Driving long distance to get to the client can become very exhausting. Long periods of time standing and walking long distances as some plants are huge - so I need to always make sure that I'm fit.🙉🙅🏾‍♀️🙆🏾‍♀️

Challenges you can expect in this profession:

Working with difficult clients can be quite challenging, many times you must provide recommendations for the client on a very tight budget. So you have to be a little creative in ensuring that the necessary changes are made and that compliance is met. The long working hours, you sometimes leave your house before 05:00 and often come back very late at night – if you have a family this can be very stressful. You will often work in a male-dominated industry, such as mines and manufacturing plants – so you need to develop a thick skin.

Certification Levels:

  • Occupational Hygiene Assistant: This is where you start when you are still new to the game. You conduct almost all of the surveys, you learn a lot during this time so you need to make the most of it. Even though the money isn’t that great, it’s enough to survive. 🤣😎

  • Occupational Hygiene Technologist: After two years, you can go attempt to write an exam with our professional body. After obtaining 65% in the exam, you will be invited to an oral exam, if all goes well then your title changes and so does your paycheck. 🥳This comes with a lot of responsibility though. You liaise with clients, responsible for the assistants and ensure that the reports are up to standard - just to name a few.

  • Occupational Hygienist: These are the top dogs😮 in our profession. If you have ambitions of running your own business, you can register with the relevant bodies to open up your own Approved Inspection Authority.

Salary Expectations

Depends on who you work for – but enough to survive…. 😏

Advice for those interested in the profession.

Get a driver’s license as soon as you can -without one it becomes very difficult to do this job as your employer will require you to travel to the client to perform your work duties. When you’re doing the fieldwork – do not be afraid to ask the employees questions – I’ve found that I learn more from the workers than the managers. Always be open to learning new things and if you do not like reading, maybe you should reconsider.

If you want to know more – you can always contact me on Instagram @ms_bartau or send The Science Experiment an email.

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