What Is an Industrial Hygienist and What Do They Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover how to qualify for industrial hygienist jobs, what the occupational health role is, and the skills needed to become an occupational hygienist.

[Featured image] Two industrial hygienists are discussing and checking the conditions of the workplace to see if there are hazards that have to be corrected.

Industrial hygienists use their knowledge of science, engineering, and psychology to identify and evaluate hazards, develop controls to protect workers, and implement safety programs in the workplace.

As an industrial hygienist, you’ll specialize in protecting workers’ health and safety in industrial and commercial settings. This involves anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and recommending solutions to risks. You’ll strive to protect workers from exposure to harmful substances, conditions, and activities. You may hear industrial hygiene called occupational health, occupational hygiene, or workplace health. 

Becoming an industrial hygienist may be a great choice if you enjoy working in the sciences, putting your technical skills to work, and helping others.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities of an industrial hygienist?

As an occupational hygienist, you'll use science to assess environmental and workplace hazards and develop and implement strategies to control or eliminate worker risks. Some industrial hygienists focus on anticipating and planning for threats, while others work more on reparatory interventions and risk management to improve workplace processes, protocols, and protection. Some of the primary duties you'll do in this job role are:

  • Conducting exposure assessments to determine if workers are at risk

  • Recommending ways to control or eliminate exposure to hazardous materials

  • Designing and implementing industrial hygiene programs

  • Training workers to protect themselves from exposure to hazards

  • Researching the health effects of exposure to hazardous materials

Workplace hazards

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) defines a workplace hazard as “any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone [1].” 

According to CCOHS, potential hazards are present in nearly every work environment, and you must identify and address them to protect your employees. Hazards can come from:

  • Items (someone cuts themselves with a knife)

  • Substances (the chemical benzene, which can cause cancer)

  • Materials (bacteria that cause illness) 

  • Sources of energy (someone is shocked by electricity)

  • Conditions (someone slips on a wet floor)

  • Processes (welding leads to a condition called metal fume fever)

  • Practices (long-term mining may lead to diseases like silicosis)

  • Behaviours (bullying coworkers may lead to depression or anxiety)

By understanding the risks associated with each type of hazard, you can take steps to protect yourself and your coworkers from harm. An industrial hygienist's work involves an ongoing risk assessment and mitigation process.

What skills do you need to become an industrial hygienist?

As an industrial hygienist, you'll need a strong grasp of science to understand and evaluate data. You'll communicate effectively with other scientists, engineers, and stakeholders to develop solutions to health and safety problems. You’ll need the skills to identify and assess hazardous materials, establish safety protocols, monitor work environments, and investigate incidents. 

Here are some more competencies that may help you succeed:

  • Communication skills

  • Organization skills

  • Critical thinking skills

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Active listening skills

  • Detail-oriented

  • Able to work independently

  • Time management skills

  • Research skills

  • Testing skills

  • An ethical approach to work

  • Presentation skills

  • Data analysis skills

  • Investigative skills

  • Problem-solving skills

What do you need to study to work as an industrial hygienist?

To get a job as an industrial hygienist, you'll typically need a bachelor's degree or college diploma in a related scientific or technical discipline. Some jobs may also require a master's degree. 

Industrial or occupational hygienists may need a certification from the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists or le Conseil d'accréditation en hygiène industrielle du Québec. If you're involved in green building design and technologies development, you may also need the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the Canadian Green Building Council.

Earn the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) credential

On top of their education, many industrial hygienists earn the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) credential from the Board for Global EHS Credentialing (BGC), which was previously the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (BIH).

CIH is the global standard for industrial hygiene certification. 


How much do industrial hygienists get paid?

The median wage for industrial hygienist jobs in Canada is $40.62 per hour [2]. That number may be higher or lower, depending on the province or territory you work in and your experience level. Canada Job Bank expects job growth for industrial hygienists to be “Limited” to “Good” through 2026, depending on the province or territory in which you work [3].

The following are some of the job titles you may encounter when searching for industrial hygienist jobs, along with their median base pay for Canada:

  • Health and safety officer: $38.46 per hour [4]

  • Occupational health and safety officer: $38.46 per hour [5]

  • Ergonomics specialist: $40.00 per hour [6]

  • Hazardous waste inspector: $38.31 per hour [7

  • Industrial safety engineer: $40.87 per hour [8]

  • Industrial hygiene engineer: $50.43 per hour [9]

Where do industrial hygienists find work?

Industrial hygienists typically find jobs in industries where potential health hazards are prevalent. As an industrial hygienist, you might work in a setting involving manufacturing, chemical processing, or construction, or you may work in research.  Here are some of the places industrial hygienists typically work:

  • Colleges and universities

  • Consulting firms

  • Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal government

  • Hospitals and medical centers

  • Industrial settings, such as oil and gas, manufacturers, agriculture, transport and logistics

  • Insurance companies

  • Laboratories

  • Public utility companies

  • Research institutions

  • Environmental and conservation organizations

Is there good career progression for an industrial hygienist?

Some industrial hygienists pursue advanced degrees, which can enhance their employability for mid- or senior-level roles or lead to careers in teaching or research.

Another alternative to an industrial hygienist role is to move into consulting. Consultancy can give you more freedom to plan your work hours and vacation time.

Ready to take the next steps in your industrial hygienist career?

A Professional Certificate can help you better understand an industrial hygienist’s job and develop skills you can add to your resume. You might consider John Hopkins University’s Chemicals and Health Professional Certificate. 

If you’re interested in health and safety in the construction industry, the environment, health, and safety of construction processes content in Columbia University’s Construction Project Management Professional Certificate could be a good starting point. 

Article sources


CCOHS. “OSH Answers Fact Sheets, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/hazard_risk.html#:~:text=There%20are%20many%20definitions%20for,effects%20on%20something%20or%20someone..” Accessed February 13, 2023

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