Industrial Hygiene


Industrial hygiene, commonly known as occupational hygiene outside of the United States, is the science of protecting the health and safety of people in the workplace.


Industrial hygiene, also known as occupation hygiene outside of the United States, together with industrial (or occupational) medicine make up occupational health. Industrial hygiene focuses on the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of workplace health hazards. Industrial hygiene is different from industrial medicine because it focuses solely on the prevention rather than the treatment of workplace injuries and illness.

A coking factory near Jiexiu spews sulphurous smoke and industrial pollution into the atmosphere. Atmospheric contamination in the province is the worst in China.

A coking factory near Jiexiu spews sulphurous smoke and industrial pollution into the atmosphere. Atmospheric contamination in the province is the worst in China. Air pollution accounts for 750,000 premature deaths across the country annually, August 15, 2007.
(Mike Goldwater/Alamy Stock Photo)

Industrial hygienists focus on five major groups of health hazards.


Although Hippocrates recognized the relationship between lead toxicity and the health of mine workers in fourth century BC, the science and study of industrial hygiene was very slow to develop, and until the 1900s, there was very little concern for the health of workers.

About 500 years after Hippocrates described the health problems of mine workers, Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, described a type of mask made for workers who were subjected to large amounts of dust and lead fumes at their jobs. This description, however, did not produce any great changes in the workplace, and the field of industrial hygiene showed no real growth. Even when universities began to focus on observations and experimentation, there was little focus on occupational diseases.

The first major attention the idea of industrial hygiene received was in 1473. At this time, Ulrich Ellenbog made a pamphlet that described occupational diseases along with instructions for better hygiene. Even with this work, during the sixteenth century, many people still believed that mine workers became ill because of demons living in the mines. People believed that through fasting and prayer these demons could be controlled. In this same century, however, a Swiss man named Paracelsus worked in a smelting plant and wrote about the health problems these workers faced. Although he was incorrect about what caused the sickness, he did write one of the most advanced descriptions and warnings about metal and mercury poisoning.

In the 1700s, Bernardo Ramazzini, an Italian physician published his book, Diseases of Workers. The book discussed health hazards such as chemicals, dust, repetitive motions, and odd postures in 52 occupations. Ramazzini saw the importance in asking each of his patients what occupation they held, a practice that is still common today when taking a patient's history.

In 1833, the English Factory Acts were passed. These are considered the first legislation to protect workers' health. This legislation, however, was largely focused on compensation for hurt workers and not on prevention. Almost 100 years later, the so-called occupational medicine renaissance began in the United States, largely due to the work of Alice Hamilton. Alice Hamilton was the first woman appointed to the faculty at Harvard University. She specialized in the effects industrial metals and chemical compounds have on workers. By 1948, all U.S. states had passed compensation laws, and many people had begun to realize that it made more sense to control the environment and prevent accidents and illness than to pay compensation. In 1973, the first state industrial hygiene programs began. These programs were run through the New York Department of Labor and the Ohio Department of Health. Since this time, the focus on industrial hygiene has grown, and it is now a common part of medical training. Both national and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization, work to protect workers and reduce the number of workplace accidents and illness that take place each year.


The purpose of industrial hygiene is to anticipate workplace hazards, recognize and evaluate hazards that do exist, and control these hazards in order to protect the health of workers and the community. Industrial hygiene does not focus on one specific area of the workplace, but instead addresses all types of physical or psychosocial hazards.

Training and certification

See also Lead ; Lead poisoning ; Mercury ; Mercury poisoning .

Electromagnetic field—
An area containing both electric and magnetic components, also known as electromagnetic radiation. Areas with high levels of electromagnetic radiation can be a health threat to people.
Mercury poisoning—
The exposure to the heavy metal mercury. Exposure to mercury can cause vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, kidney and respiratory problems, and brain damage.



Asfahl, Ray C., and David W. Rieske. Industrial Safety and Health Management, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Rose, Vernon E., and Barbara Cohrssen. Patty's Industrial Hygiene, 6th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011.


American Industrial Hygiene Association. “What Is an Industrial Hygienist?”

Office of Research Services. “What Is Industrial Hygiene?” (accessed October 16, 2012).

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Workplace Safety and Health Topics.” (accessed October 16, 2012).


American Board of Industrial Hygiene, 6015 W St. Joseph, Suite 102, Lansing, MI, 48917, (517) 321-2638, Fax: (517) 321-4624, .

American Industrial Hygiene Association, 3141 Fairview Park Drive, Suite 777, Falls Church, VA, 22042, (703) 849-8888, Fax: (703) 207-3561,, .

International Occupational Hygiene Association, 5/6 Melbourne Business Court, Pride Park, Derby, UK, DE24 8LZ, +44(332) 298 101, Fax: +44(332) 298 099,, .

Tish Davidson, AM

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.