Within the scope of public health practice, industrial hygiene is the health profession devoted to the recognition, evaluation, and control of hazards in the working environment. These include chemical hazards, physical hazards, biological hazards, and ergonomic factors that cause or contribute to injury, disease, impaired function, or discomfort. Throughout the world, the profession that addresses these hazards is known as occupational hygiene; however, the United States has not yet adopted this newer, more accurate term. In this chapter, the term industrial hygiene is used as the equivalent of occupational hygiene.
Industrial hygiene principles have evolved over many years with accelerated development since the Industrial Revolution. Industrial hygiene is a young profession, which traces its name to Hygeia, the goddess of health and prevention, daughter of Aesculapius, god of medicine in Greek mythology. The modern history of industrial hygiene starts with the organization of manufacturing processes into industrial sectors. This history was chronicled by Theodore Hatch, who summarized the “Major Accomplishments in Occupational Health in the Past Fifty Years” on the 50th anniversary of the Division of Occupational Health of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1964. Hatch noted that, prior to World War I (about 1914), the United States was a rural, agricultural society, where the industrial processes were few and conducted by manual labor. The only plastic available was celluloid, petroleum refining dumped most of the product to waste, and Henry Ford had just introduced the radical concept of a $5 daily wage. This was the industrial world that Alice Hamilton discovered when she began to trace the health problems she found among immigrant families back to the husbands' workplaces.
In the 50 years that Hatch reviewed, industrial hygiene had emerged as one of the core disciplines in public health. In 1964, he attributed the progress that had been made in improving workplace conditions to the application of the principle of “epidemiologic assessment of occupational health hazards.” Progress in the identification of these hazards resulted from “… the joining of skills from the health sciences and medicine on the one hand, and from the physical sciences and engineering on the other, with the two groups cemented together by biostatistics and epidemiology.”1
This approach taken by the pioneers in industrial hygiene resulted in remarkable progress. Not only did they identify important questions, they had the vision to develop interdisciplinary approaches to solve them. This vision places industrial hygiene in the larger field of public health. The industrial hygienist's work in the recognition, evaluation, and control of hazardous exposures in the work environment is a practice of primary prevention, and the identity of industrial hygienists as public health practitioners is clear. Prevention is the key to a safe and healthful workplace, and industrial hygiene is a practice of primary prevention.
The steps that are involved in the prevention of occupational and environmental diseases are hazard recognition, hazard evaluation, and ...