This week we speak to Damien Eaves, member of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, about the undervalued yet vital service that occupational hygienists provide.
‘It’s hard to convince companies to invest to reduce health risks. With safety, there’s often an immediate problem: suddenly somebody loses a finger. In occupation hygiene, hazards have effects over a long time. It’s hard to quantify whether somebody will develop dermatitis or asthma or cancer. It’s amazing the different perceptions of how many people died last year at work due to safety versus health hazards. Safety-related deaths have actually plateaued at around 150, but 13,000 people died of occupational diseases last year. That’s nothing compared to 40,000 new cases of skin diseases and 170,000 cases of noise-induced hearing loss.’
Damien Eaves is a chartered occupational hygienist and a member of the British Occupational Hygiene Society. His clients are health and safety managers and advisers who need expert support, but his advice is sometimes resisted.
“Companies are just ticking a box”
‘Last year we saw extraction systems that had not been tested properly. We did a thorough test, suggested improvements and failed some systems. The following year we weren’t invited back. They got the original firm in, which was probably doing the bare minimum. Some companies just test air being sucked at the entrance to a hood. You should also test inside the duct that the particles are actually being carried all the way through to the filter. Companies sometimes just want to tick a box.’
What are occupational hygienists made of?
A good occupational hygienist needs to have an open mind, understand all the different facets that go on in a workplace and recognise that effective communication is key whether you are talking to the Managing Director, the Union representative or the operative on the shop floor. Being challenged and having to justify what you’re saying is part and parcel of the job. Once the occupational hygienist explains it and employers understand it, they’re much more willing to come on board, and they can see the benefits.
Many professionals provide advice that will only pay off in the long term. However occupational hygienists, as many other professions dealing with risk factors, will find that responsible employers who invest in these areas have fewer sick days and productivity goes up because employees feel they’re being valued and looked after.
Edited by Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 29 May 2015