According to the National Safety Council, preventable work-related injuries cost a total of $163.9 billion and led to 99,000,000 missed days of work in 2020 alone. Industrial hygiene jobs focus on preventing injury and illness in workplaces and communities. They accomplish this by discovering existing and potential hazards, then implementing policies to reduce or eliminate them.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) set the stage for industrial hygiene with the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (OSH Act), which mandates health and safety regulations in the workplace. More than 40 percent of the compliance professionals enforcing OSH Act policies are industrial hygienists, and they play critical roles in the development of new mandates and regulations.
What Is Industrial Hygiene?
Industrial hygiene is a field dedicated to improving the overall health, safety, and well-being of American workers and communities. Individuals in this field anticipate and recognize potential environmental and workplace hazards, evaluate their impact on employees and communities, then use policy and procedure to address the environment in a way that reduces risk and stress.
For example, some industrial hygienists may implement the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in factories or on job sites to keep workers safe and reduce the risk of injury. In other cases, industrial hygienists test air, water, and soil samples for the presence of industrial chemicals used in nearby facilities, which keeps entire communities and ecosystems safe.
Five Types of Workplace Hazards
Workplace hazards can vary from one industry to the next. Per data from OSHA, falls from scaffolding or ladders and electrocution are two of the biggest concerns in construction. Hazards in chemical manufacturing facilities include the potential for fire, the inhalation of fumes, and exposure to carbon monoxide. Typically, these hazards fall into one of five distinct categories: airborne, biological, physical, ergonomic, and chemical.
1. Airborne Hazards
Air contaminants are common in many working environments, whether indoor or outdoor. Common forms of contaminants include dust, fumes, gasses, and fibers. Air contaminants can cause great harm when they are breathed into the lungs.
For example, certain types of gasses can cause irreversible damage to the body, and breathing in asbestos fibers can lead to a serious cancer called mesothelioma. Airborne hazards impact several industries, but they are most prevalent in construction and manufacturing.
2. Biological Hazards
Biological hazards include living organisms such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. These organisms can enter the body through respiration or a break in the skin, and while many are simple infections that are easily treated, others can cause lifelong injury. People most likely to be affected by biological hazards include healthcare, veterinary, and agricultural workers.
3. Physical Hazards
Physical hazards are by far the most common, and they can affect anyone in any industry. Light, temperature, and noise are all considered physical hazards, as are radiation and vibration. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), long-term exposure to sounds over 70 decibels can cause permanent hearing damage. Additionally, exposing the hands and arms to vibration over a long period can lead to loss of sensation, reduced grip strength, and discoloration.
4. Ergonomic Hazards
Ergonomic hazards impact anyone who uses repetitive motion in the workplace, including individuals who sit at desks in front of computers for long periods of time. Repetitive typing can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, which are two of the most common injuries among office staff. Additionally, improper desk chairs and monitor height can lead to lower back and neck injuries over time.
It is possible to minimize most ergonomic hazards by setting chairs and monitors at the proper height for each user, and by using equipment specifically designed to alleviate the stress associated with repetitive motion. Taking frequent breaks or using special standing desks can also reduce the risk of significant injury.
5. Chemical Hazards
The inhalation of toxic vapors, the absorption of harmful material through the skin, and even the risk of eating or drinking a potentially dangerous material loom large in several industries. To prevent this, OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires identification and warning labels on chemical containers in the workplace.
The Five Basic Principles of Industrial Hygiene Assessments
Assessments can help those working industrial hygiene jobs identify risks before they cause injury and illness. The five basic principles of industrial hygiene assessments are as follows.
- Anticipation: Anticipation is all about documenting everything in the workplace, including the physical layout, the operations and processes, specific tasks, and even materials. It involves finding and understanding exposures that may be caused by workplace hazards, then relaying that information to the impacted parties.
- Recognition: Recognizing hazards often involves surveying individuals in the workforce to better understand how they go about doing their jobs. As an example, if employees report they work in very close quarters, this could help viruses spread through the workforce more quickly. It may also make it difficult to evacuate safely in the event of a fire or severe weather.
- Evaluation: The evaluation phase can only be completed by professionals like industrial hygienists. It involves carefully evaluating the exposure risk based on the environment or industry.
- Control: OSHA dictates there are three ways to reduce employees’ exposure to hazards:
- Engineering controls, which are designed to remove the source of the hazard itself or to completely isolate the worker from the hazard
- Work practice controls, which involve changing the way employees go about doing their daily tasks through new processes and procedures
- Administrative controls, which alter schedules in a way that helps reduce employees’ exposure to various hazards
- Confirmation: Confirmation involves checking the controls put in place to ensure they are working as intended. It may also involve documenting issues with these measures and using additional corrections as needed.
Industries and Environments
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the largest employers of industrial hygienists as of 2021 were government organizations, manufacturing companies, construction companies, scientific and technical consulting services, and hospitals. Individuals in industrial hygiene jobs are highly qualified to address the specific and unique issues these industries face. Though the challenges may vary, the five fundamentals of industrial hygiene apply to all situations.
For example, hospitals must proactively address — through highly specific processes — issues stemming from radiation in imaging facilities and related work to avoid biological hazards. Construction companies, on the other hand, must take action to avoid ergonomic and physical injuries and avoid airborne contaminants present during demolition projects. Manufacturing facilities may employ industrial hygienists to help them improve the physical and ergonomic safety of production processes.
Industrial Hygiene Jobs
The roles and responsibilities of industrial hygienists are far-reaching. Some industrial hygienists spend their days improving the processes involved in obtaining pharmaceutical approval, while others work for state environmental agencies to keep air, water, and soil clean. Still, others travel to construction job sites around the country to ensure their compliance with OSHA regulations.
From industry to industry, these individuals work to ensure the overall safety and well-being of not only employees but also the surrounding communities. Understanding a variety of roles, including the average industrial hygiene salary associated with each, is important to make wise career decisions.
Environmental monitoring focuses on industrial hygiene as it affects the general public. These individuals tend to work for private organizations or government entities. Their role is to ensure the activities of a business or facility are not negatively impacting the surrounding community. They spend much of their time collecting and analyzing soil, water, air, and atmospheric samples to check for pollutants or even radiation.
Environmental monitors may also be responsible for developing plans to fix any issues they find or to prevent issues from arising altogether. They provide invaluable guidance to government entities, businesses, and even entire communities about the potential for environmental hazards. Finally, they prepare reports and presentations to share their research and findings.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the BLS, environmental scientists and specialists earned an average annual salary of about $76,500 in May 2021. Those who work for the federal government earn the highest salary of roughly $103,500, while those who work for state governments earn the lowest salary of about $67,700.
The BLS projects the employment of environmental scientists and specialists will climb by about 5 percent between 2021 and 2031, with an average of 7,800 new openings each year across the country. Retiring environmental monitors, individuals transferring to different occupations, and the increased demand for environmental protection will drive this increase.
Regulatory Affairs Specialist
Regulatory affairs specialists can serve in several important roles, depending on the industry in which they work. In some cases, they serve a supervisory role and ensure new products are designed with all applicable regulations in mind. These individuals may also be employed to help organizations improve their regulatory compliance through the design and implementation of workplace standards.
Many regulatory affairs specialists work for pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies. A large part of their job involves securing and maintaining Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval for medicines and devices. Others may work with manufacturing or construction companies to help develop policies that ensure compliance with OSHA standards. In other industries, these individuals may be responsible for internal audits, license renewals, and similar requirements.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to data from the compensation website Payscale, regulatory affairs specialists earned an average annual salary of approximately $72,100 a year as of March 2023. The average entry-level annual salary is about $63,000 and climbs to $84,000 a year for those who have 20 or more years of experience. The BLS categorizes regulatory affairs specialists as compliance officers, and as of May 2021, they earned an average annual salary of about $75,800.
The BLS also projects the employment of compliance officers, including regulatory affairs specialists, will increase by a little more than 4 percent between 2021 and 2031, with more than 15,000 jobs opening up within that 10-year period. As existing regulatory affairs specialists retire, and as more companies rely on these individuals to ensure their compliance, the demand will continue to rise.
Safety directors have some of the highest-paying industrial hygiene jobs in the nation, but that high pay comes with additional responsibility. These individuals manage the health and safety programs throughout their companies in an effort to keep both the workforce and the surrounding community safe. Safety directors may be responsible for developing safety strategies, overseeing a large health and safety department, managing that department’s budget, and managing internal policy compliance.
The BLS reports government entities were the largest employers of safety directors as of May 2021, followed closely by the manufacturing and construction industries. Depending on the industry, these individuals may work primarily in offices or they may spend much of their time on factory or foundry production floors.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to Payscale, safety directors earned an average annual salary of about $83,400 a year as of March 2023. Those who are just entering the occupation earn an average of roughly $53,000 a year, while those who have 20 or more years of experience earn about $98,000 annually.
Per the BLS, employment of occupational health and safety specialists, including safety directors, is expected to grow by about 5 percent between 2021 and 2023. Most of the 14,500 jobs added in this 10-year period will be in the healthcare and technical sectors. As workers transfer to other occupations or exit the profession, new safety directors will be required to take their place. Furthermore, companies are turning to safety directors to help them address increasing workers’ compensation and insurance costs.
Senior Compliance Consultant
Senior compliance consultants are another type of compliance officer who works to ensure their employers are following standards and regulations set forth by the government. They work in virtually any industry that deals with regulatory oversight, with some of the most popular employers being in banking, health care, oil, and insurance.
Senior compliance consultants have several important responsibilities, which include identifying and resolving compliance issues, developing risk management strategies, training new employees in regulatory compliance, and providing associated regulatory agencies with any required paperwork or reports as needed.
Salary and Job Outlook
Senior compliance consultants earned an average annual salary of about $76,400 as of February 2023, according to Payscale. While those who are just entering the role earn an average of about $53,000 per year, senior compliance consultants who work in in-demand roles with 20 or more years of experience can earn upward of $111,000 per year, according to Payscale.
The employment of compliance officers such as senior compliance consultants is on the rise. Between 2021 and 2031, employment is expected to grow by some 4 percent, according to the BLS. U.S. News and World Report ranked compliance officer as number 18 in its list of Best Business Jobs of 2023, citing its above average opportunities for advancement and salary increases.
Senior Industrial Hygienist
The senior industrial hygienist is one of the most common industrial hygiene jobs as it covers a broad range of industries. These professionals oversee a team of individuals who collect and analyze data about many different work environments and procedures. Many work for federal, state, and local governments, but others work in manufacturing, construction, and health care. Some industrial hygienists are self-employed and work on a contract basis.
Senior industrial hygienists may spend a great deal of time traveling around the country or even the globe. Also, because of their supervisory position, they tend to spend less time in the field. Exposure to potentially stressful and strenuous conditions may still occur depending on the industries in which they work.
Salary and Job Outlook
Senior industrial hygienists are some of the highest paid individuals in their fields. Per data from Payscale, they earn an average of about $93,900 a year, as of February 2023. Those who have less than a year of experience can earn about $71,000 annually, and after 20 or more years of experience, the average yearly salary can top out at around $122,000 or more.
The BLS predicts the employment of industrial hygienists as a whole will grow by about 4 percent between 2021 and 2031, and senior industrial hygienist jobs are expected to follow the same trajectory. This number is subject to change, however, as more companies start to look for new ways to lower rising insurance premiums associated with workers’ compensation claims.
Make the World a Safer Place
If you are interested in a career that puts you in a position to make workplaces and communities safer, an advanced degree, such as the Online Master of Public Health in Industrial Hygiene degree at Tulane University can be a great first step. By studying and experiencing data collection, analysis, and scientific processes, you will learn to create strategies for safer workplaces. Reducing work-related sickness and injury involves more than just reacting to problems as they occur. With a career in industrial hygiene, you can learn to prevent them at the source.