A day in the life of an occupational hygienist

The role of the occupational hygienist is to anticipate, evaluate and control health hazards in the working environment. We interviewed one of our senior consultants, James Beechey to find out more about his day to day activities, and why occupational hygiene is so important.

25 Oct 2020

Why is the role of an occupational hygiene important? 

Ultimately our role is to protect the health of an organisations people. We provide advice on control measures and suitable procedures to ensure workers are not exposed to contaminants at hazardous levels, a breakdown in contaminated control processes could indicate that their employees may not be as protected as they could, and should be while at work. This will help clients produce COSHH assessments and noise risk assessments to ensure their people are not being exposed unnecessarily. ​

Why does being an occupational hygienist appeal to you? 

I started with RPS as a graduate in 2011 with the emissions monitoring team. They worked closely with the occupational hygienists, collaborating on projects, and over time I became more involved with the hygiene side of the business. I have now been with the team for almost 6 years. The independence of the role really appeals to me. I like talking with our clients, to understand their needs and providing them consultancy advice. Sampling methods and strategies to be used for each project can vary from site to site, so it’s interesting to research the ‘fit for purpose’ methods - that’s what really sold it to me. I also like to visit different places and see how products are manufactured and all of the different processes - it’s the variety of work from day to day that really appeals to me. 

What do some of your day to day activities involve? 

My days are quite varied. At RPS we work across most industries, from processing plants and production facilities to offices in city centres. I can spend my day dust monitoring at a manufacturing facility, or I could be working on a more complex site such as a large chemical or pharmaceutical manufacturing site, monitoring for the different chemicals that employees may be exposed to. We also carry out noise and vibration monitoring, which is a bit different as we’ll have additional hazards to deal with which can involve multiple processes at several locations across the site. And occasionally we might spend several days monitoring over on site. I’ve even completed projects overseas which was interesting – not so much these days of course! 

What are some of the more interesting projects you’ve worked on? 

One of my favourite places to work is airports. These sites are interesting from a noise monitoring perspective – obviously these sites are noisy, but the noise sources, and therefore the potential exposure for site workers, can be quite varied. We often work around the maintenance engineers who are taking engines apart and completing test runs on the airfield – this is always interesting to watch. 

And sometimes just working in a manufacturing facility watching how products are made on a large scale is fascinating. I’ve seen washing up liquid, cereals and drink cans being made. Plus, these facilities are often located in old Victorian style buildings which can be quite complex to work in and around. 

In your opinion, what should a company look for in terms of a responsible occupational hygiene provider? 

A good indication of a consultant’s experience in the field is if they have a certificate of operational competence in occupational hygiene. This is the base level qualification awarded by the British Occupational Hygiene Society and is a globally recognised industry qualification.  And obviously they’ll be able to demonstrate their depth of experience. 

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