Occupational Health and Safety Compliance in Australia
Providing a safe workplace in Australia is a primary focus of employers. Where an employer has identified a potential health risk the use of occupational hygiene monitoring is an essential tool in understanding worker exposure.
From a regulatory perspective, Safe Work Australia is deciding the direction of Occupational Exposure Standards (OES), and have roadshows currently scheduled for stakeholders and businesses in February 2017. Any changes to the current OES will influence business compliance where: “A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure that a worker is not exposed to airborne contaminants above the workplace exposure standard”, whilst compliance is “demonstrated only when the exposure of individual workers or groups of workers is known, with an accepted degree of certainty, to be below the exposure standard”.
This means that a business needs to design an occupational hygiene program to provide statistical evidence to the regulator that your workforce is not over exposed. Exposure also covers breathing, skin absorption and incidental ingestion. The number of samples required will depend upon the size of the potentially exposed workforce.
The Australian Workplace Exposure Standards (WES’s) are also referred to as Occupational Exposure Standards or Levels (OES or OEL) or simply Exposure Standard’s (ES’s) and are listed online for the over 700 airborne contaminates on Safe Work Australian database.
The WES’s are based on an 8 hour shift of work exposure and must be adjusted to account for longer shifts. This process considers factors such as the biological half-life of the chemical and the body’s ability to detoxify and to recover from the chemical exposure. Presently the excel format of the Quebec model is recommended by Safe Work Australia to provide the best guidance to determine the adjusted chemical WES.
A monitoring program should be implemented to assist you to determine the effectiveness of the controls that are in place to protect your workforce, and to demonstrate legislative compliance. It is important to ensure that personal monitoring records are kept for a minimum of 30 years, and must be available to workers who are exposed.
A Certified Occupational Hygienist should design your program and interpret the results to see that your workplace complies. When considering the cost of designing a program note that only personal occupational samples are valid from a legislative perspective and a minimum of six samples per contaminant may be necessary to satisfy compliance requirements.