Year : 2014  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 103--104

Industrial hygiene: A global perspective

GS Swaminathan 
 Brakes India Limited, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Correspondence Address:
G S Swaminathan
Corporate HSE Head, (First Industrial Hygiene Specialist recruited in Public sector (BHEL) in India), Advisory Editorial Member - IJOEM, Brakes India Limited, Chennai - 600 050, Tamil Nadu

How to cite this article:
Swaminathan G S. Industrial hygiene: A global perspective.Indian J Occup Environ Med 2014;18:103-104

How to cite this URL:
Swaminathan G S. Industrial hygiene: A global perspective. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Aug 19 ];18:103-104
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Full Text

The practice of industrial hygiene (or as some would call it, occupational hygiene) has grown significantly around the world. I describe briefly some world trends and provide you with an update on where we are as a profession and where we are headed. My brief review is limited to the major regions and countries of the world. Some might ask, "Why is this worth knowing?" I think the Asian economic crisis should make it clear that we are all affected by what happens in remote parts of the world. Additionally, the growth and activities of the safety and health profession outside are important to the success of the profession overall.

There are several world trends that are affecting our profession. First, world economics in conjunction with GATT are pushing global manufacturing. Global manufacturing means production of products in areas of economic advantage with regional or worldwide distribution. As a result, more U.S.-based professionals will deal with international issues even if only limited to requirements for exports. It also means that the growth of our profession outside the United States, with some ideas and concepts such as the "Green Movement" and "Sustainable Development" being imported here from Europe and other places.

Another trend is the change in workers' compensation systems and the regulatory climate. Workers' compensation, which is a driver for our profession, is being privatized in many regions of the world (such as South America) and will continue to move in this direction. This means that there will be additional economic incentives for companies to reduce worker injuries and illness. This is because most government programs do not effectively penalize those with the highest injury and illness rates.

A trend to reduce government has been apparent in most of the developed world. This trend will spread to the developing world as well, driven by the economics of competition in a world scene. This trend will decrease government programs and promote consulting because governments will not be able to actively establish and enforce worker safety and health with limited resources (e.g. this is likely in Mexico). Pressure to provide economic justification for safety and health measures and programs will also increase, as companies on a worldwide basis continue to endlessly cycle through hiring downsizing, restructuring, and outsourcing to gain economic advantage.

The growth of global standards (or standardization) and information sharing will continue at an ever-increasing pace. We have already seen approaches to this such as the recently established SA 8000 from the Partnership for Responsible Global Sourcing. This voluntary practice encompasses many labor and discrimination issues, including safe working conditions.

In practical terms, there is a move to a management systems approach to safety and health stressing continuous improvement or at least common standards for performance across the world. This bodes well for those dealing with a myriad of complex regulations in different parts of the world.

Finally, most of us are no longer in professional isolation when it comes to ideas and performance in safety and health. With the advent of the World Wide Web, cross-fertilization is available to our profession, no matter where it may be practiced. This means an essentially free flow of information around the world that will speed the progress of our profession. In other words, someone in an underdeveloped country will have access to the latest ideas and developments while we will be able to benefit from best practices around the world.

IH in the World Scene

The English-speaking countries tend (with exceptions) to have the greatest number of industrial hygienists and most developed professional practices. This includes the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia. Others with relatively large or growing practices in IH include Brazil, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, and Taiwan.

All those mentioned, with the exception of Sweden and Taiwan, are currently members of the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA). Of this listing, the United States, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, Finland, Canada, South Africa, and Sweden (proposed) currently have some form of certification or licensing for the practice of industrial hygiene. Interestingly, even though the largest number of hygienists tend to reside in English-speaking countries, it is clear that world-class experts reside even in the developing countries, however, in smaller numbers.

The transition that is taking place is the movement from a physician-dominated treatment model to a greater emphasis on prevention in most of the industrially developing countries of the world. This trend, combined with the import of safety and health practices from multinationals, is creating the demand for IH. A brief summary of the growth of the profession on a regional basis follows.

The United States has the largest and most active industrial hygiene practice in the world. Estimates are that there are approximately 15,000 industrial hygienists in the United States; half of them certified in IH. The United States also has the most academic programs at all levels. More than 100 schools offer degrees in industrial hygiene or in a closely related field. Canada probably has the second largest number of industrial hygienists-over 600.

What is probably most significant is the proposal by China to leapfrog its development in safety and health by quickly moving to a mandated management systems approach while trying to establish the professional resources to carry this out.

The second most populous country after China is India. India, similar to China, is just beginning to recognize the economic costs of occupational injuries and illnesses. India has a relatively young profession with probably only approximately 100 persons practicing industrial hygiene. Some recent developments suggest an increasing growth in IH, including the establishment of a couple of graduate programs of study. Obviously, both India and China represent the greatest growth potential for the profession.

In closing, I have touched upon the growth of the profession of industrial hygiene around the world, emphasizing general trends rather than specifics in the various countries. There are many sources for more information. These include the International Affairs Committee of AIHA (, NIOSH (, the World Health Organization (, and others. I would recommend that you check out the web page for the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety ( as a starting point. It has links to these and a number of other interesting sites. It is a small world with a lot to learn from others.