As occupational hygienists we have a duty to make sure well being is not cosmetic; Our job is to make sure that health and safety policies are consistent, effective and realistic.
I need to be continuously open-minded so I keep ahead of emerging risks.
For me, this is perhaps the most rewarding challenge.

Vincent Perret
Occupational Hygienist, Switzerland

Large companies working with toxic materials typically employ one or more occupational hygienist in-house. The nature of the industry tends to define the work. Hygiene positions are common in industries like mining, oil and gas, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, aerospace, metalworking and heath authorities. In multinational businesses there may also be opportunities to work in other countries and experience different cultures.

An "in-house service" may house a single hygienist or a group of hygienists with different levels of experience and seniority. They tend to develop deep expertise in those areas of occupational hygiene of particular interest to the company. Professionals may well have the opportunity to publish research papers.

Typical jobs in-house include:

Assistant Hygienist or Hygiene Technician

An assistant or technician usually works directly with employees in the workplace to ensure health hazards are properly controlled. Duties could include:

  • Measuring worker exposure to dust, fumes, vapours, noise and other hazards
  • Calibrating and maintaining sampling equipment
  • Analysing samples in a laboratory
  • Testing control measures such as ventilation systems

Usually these duties will be carried out under the supervision of a more senior hygienist. Even so, the person will need to be resourceful, observant, able to communicate clearly and to adapt to changing technology.

He or she will have academic qualifications up to degree level in science or engineering, plus specific (often on-the-job) training in occupational hygiene measurement techniques. It is common for technicians or chemists working in company laboratories to assume or transfer into such hygiene roles.

Professional Occupational Hygienist

A professional hygienist is expected to:

  • Know the workplaces, processes, materials, sources of exposure, the people involved and the legal requirements which may apply
  • Be well versed in the recognition of potential health hazards and their association with disease or discomfort
  • Design appropriate environmental or biological sampling programmes
  • Select, purchase, calibrate and maintain appropriate field equipment
  • Carry out surveys of the workplace and be aware of the limitations of such surveys
  • Evaluate the risk to health using professional judgment, statistical treatment of the data and accepted hygiene standards
  • Assess the effectiveness of control technologies and recommend improvements to management

Excellent written and oral communication skills are crucial. The senior hygienist must be able to interpret data and talk persuasively with managers, workers and authorities.

Broader managerial skills are also expected, like the ability to develop subordinates and to control a budget. An understanding of the business strategy and processes is essential.

It is likely that the senior hygienist will be very active professionally, both learning from peers and contributing to knowledge. Committee work, publications and presentations are a necessary part of keeping up to date and communicating your own discoveries.

With increasing seniority the hygienist should become a part of the decision making team at senior management level. Terms such as Occupational Hygiene Director and Executive Hygienist are sometimes used to describe these high level roles.

Senior Occupational Hygienist

A senior hygienist uses professional competence and proven experience to manage the occupational hygiene programmes in an organisation. In a multi-national company, the hygienist may have corporate responsibilities with an international remit. He or she may:

  • Formulate occupational hygiene strategy, policies and standards
  • Audit and monitor the effectiveness of the policies
  • Educate and train management and workforce in occupational hygiene
  • Facilitate supervision and professional development of hygiene staff
  • Manage an occupational hygiene laboratory
  • Provide quality assurance of hygiene measurements and programmes