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Industrial Hygiene

UVa combines the characteristics of a small industrial city with those of a multidisciplinary research facility. In this complex and diverse environment, Environmental Health & Safety is UVa's primary resource for providing expertise and advisory services for assessing the daily hazards encountered in the work place and the research laboratory. These hazards may include physical hazards such as heat, noise and non-ionizing radiation in the form of lasers or chemical hazards encountered during laboratory research, maintenance or production activities. Dust and fume generating activities, such as sanding and cutting wood, welding, and masonry work may also create hazardous levels of inhalable particulates. If you are planning to initiate any work process or research project that may generate or create such hazards, please consult the University Industrial Hygienist (434-982-4909) in advance.

What is Industrial Hygiene?

Industrial hygiene is the science/art of recognizing, evaluating, and controlling environmental factors or stresses at the work place which may cause illness, lack of well being, or discomfort among workers or among the community as a whole. As industrial hygienists, we assist in developing procedures and controls (engineering controls and personal protective equipment such as respirators) that minimize the adverse impact of working with hazardous substances. If you work with chemicals in a research laboratory, or question your exposure to hazardous substances while conducting maintenance, please do not hesitate to call us for a work site assessment. We will assist in determining the nature and amount of exposure and compare this information to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulatory limits and more stringent recommended standards from other recognized organizations. If exposures approach or exceed published limits, we will then recommend ameliorative actions to reduce exposures by way of engineering controls, changes in work procedures, or (as a last resort) personal protective equipment. Exposure assessments can also be conducted on physical stressors, such as noise and heat.

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Engineering Controls

Local exhaust ventilation is the primary method used to control inhalation exposures to hazardous substances. The exhaust system consists of a hood, the associated duct work, and a fan. Types of local exhaust ventilation system include fume hoods, vented enclosures for storing large equipment or highly toxic chemicals, and flexible ducts or drops for capturing contaminants near the point of release. The chemical fume hood is the most common local exhaust ventilation system at UVa. When properly operated and correctly used, a laboratory fume hood can control gases, dusts, mists, and vapors released by volatile liquids. A laboratory fume hood must be used when working with all hazardous substances.

Chemical Fume Hood Surveys

There are nearly 1000 chemical fume hoods on grounds in various laboratories that we survey at least annually. These surveys are critical in determining whether or not the most important piece of safety equipment in a lab is performing satisfactorily. The yellow sticker on the face of the hood has instructions on how to operate the fume hood and provides contact information for repair or re-surveys. Modification of the local exhaust ventilation system without approval is prohibited, as changes made to the system may result in unsafe conditions.


The Industrial Hygiene Program will also assess employee exposure to noise which could cause hearing loss. We will measure the noise exposure at your work location using a sound level meter and a personal noise dosimeter. Those employees whose exposure exceeds the 80 dBA averaged over 8-hour workday will be enrolled in the University Hearing Loss Prevention Program and will be notified yearly to make an appointment with an audiologist through either Employee Work Med or Employee Health to have a hearing exam. In keeping with OSHA requirements, employees enrolled in the HLPP will obtain yearly training on the effect of noise on hearing, the proper way to wear hearing protection, and the purpose of annual audiometric testing.


Operations involving high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, and direct physical contact with hot objects and/or strenuous physical activities present a high potential for inducing heat illness in employees engaged in such operations. Aside from the obvious dangers of working in a hot environment or the potential for contact with hot surfaces, the frequency of accidents increase, due to the lowered mental alertness and physical performance of an individual. Employers, supervisors and workers all have an essential role to play in preventing heat illness. Contact our office if you need us to monitor your work site or operation and to recommend engineering or administrative controls.

Indoor Air Quality

At times complaints arise when occupants notice a change in their working environment and questions of "air quality" arise. When a concern is raised, an indoor air quality investigation is conducted, which initially examines the current conditions that occupants are experiencing. The investigation includes a walk-through survey, interviews with occupants and consultation with facilities management on the operation of the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system. Indoor air quality problems arise in non-industrial buildings when there is an inadequate amount of clean, outdoor air being provided for the amount of air contaminants present in that space. Air contaminants sources can be biological in nature (mold, dust mites and other allergens), or chemical (formaldehyde, carbon monoxide) and can originate either inside or outside a building. Physical factors (temperature and relative humidity) can contribute to perceptions of poor air quality as well. Air sampling is rarely undertaken, as often, adjustments to the HVAC system or better housekeeping are all that is needed. While the University aims to provide a clean, healthy environment where the majority of people work at their highest levels of productivity, it cannot provide complete comfort to 100% of the population due to individual sensitivities.

"Stink alerts"

In the event of an unexpected and/or unusual odor in a work area, the source of the odor should be identified as soon as possible. Begin by asking other room or building occupants about activities or equipment that could be the source. If the smell is likened to diesel exhaust, familiarize yourself with the fresh air intakes for the building to determine if an idling vehicle could be the cause. Dry sink traps are often the cause of a "sewer-like" smell and can be prevented by occasionally running water down them. If you believe that the smell or event that you are experiencing may be related to a gas leak or fires in the building (you smell gas or see smoke) call 911 and activate the fire alarm immediately. Otherwise, in order to document complaints of this nature and allow for efficient communication and corrective action, it is critical that occupants of the building take the following steps:

  1. Notify your supervisor of the problem and call the Department of the Physical Plant (434-924-2267 – Medical Center or 434-924-1777 – Academic) and report the complaint or concern and request a follow-up from HSPP personnel on the nature of the odor by indicating your building and room number and providing a contact name and number.
  2. Call Environmental Health and Safety (434-982-4911) and repeat the information.
  3. Use the attached "Workplace Complaint Log" to record your complaints and document who was contacted. It will also serve as a tool for EHS when investigating the specific nature of an event. You may be asked to fax your log to EHS (434-982-4915).

Work Place Complaint Log