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Significant Changes for Workplace Safety: Immediate Reduction in the Workplace Exposure Standard for Welding Fumes

22/01/2024by admin0Read: 3 minutes

In a significant move toward ensuring safer work environments, Work Health and Safety Ministers have recently sanctioned an immediate reduction in the workplace exposure standard (WES) for welding fumes (not otherwise classified). This reduction sees the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) drop from 5 mg/m³ to a more stringent 1 mg/m³.

This pivotal change to the WES is poised to become mandatory upon implementation in the WHS/OHS laws across the Commonwealth, states, and territories. Welding processes, pervasive across industries such as construction and manufacturing, have been recognised for their potential health impacts. Workers exposed to welding fumes face risks of developing occupational lung diseases, including lung cancer.

Under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, Persons Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU), such as employers, are duty-bound to eliminate or minimise risks to worker health and safety as reasonably practicable, notably those associated with chemical exposure.

Crucially, PCBUs must guarantee that workers are not exposed to any airborne contaminant exceeding the concentration outlined in the Workplace Exposure Standards (WES) for airborne contaminants (WES list). Welding fumes, being a complex amalgamation of hazardous chemicals, demand special attention. Individual components within welding fumes have their own WES.

Therefore, in addition to adhering to the total WES for welding fumes, PCBUs must ensure that workers’ exposure to individual components remains below the respective WES values.

Furthermore, to aid organisations in managing these risks effectively, the model Code of Practice: welding processes offers practical guidance. This includes strategies to mitigate exposure to welding fumes, ensuring compliance with the revised standards.

In light of these changes, businesses are encouraged to proactively review and enhance their workplace health and safety protocols, fostering an environment where employee well-being is prioritised.

WorkSafe Victoria Calls Employers to Assess Welding Fume Controls Amidst National Exposure Standard Tightening

WorkSafe is issuing a crucial directive to Victorian employers, urging a meticulous evaluation of their control measures for managing welding fumes in light of the nationwide tightening of exposure standards.

Workers exposed to welding fumes face a spectrum of potential health effects, spanning from immediate irritations like eye and respiratory discomfort to more severe conditions such as asthma, metal fume fever, nervous system damage, and the heightened risks of lung and kidney cancer.

Regrettably, since 2019, three Victorian workers have succumbed to diseases caused by prolonged exposure to welding fumes.

Aligned with Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, employers bear the responsibility of mitigating the risk posed by hazardous substances, specifically airborne contaminants like welding fumes. It is imperative to ensure that workers and all individuals within a workplace are shielded from exposure surpassing any relevant exposure standard.

Effective today, pivotal changes are in effect, significantly reducing the workplace exposure standard for welding fumes (not otherwise classified) to 1 mg/m³ as an eight-hour time-weighted average, down from the previous 5 mg/m³. This exposure standard signifies the maximum airborne concentration that a person can typically withstand without incurring adverse health effects.

However, it is crucial to note that depending on welding processes and components, fumes may contain specific substances with exposure standards lower than the revised 1 mg/m³.

Employers are encouraged to adopt a three-tiered approach to minimise welding fume exposure. Firstly, by eliminating, substituting, or modifying the welding process; secondly, by implementing ventilation controls such as on-torch extraction or local exhaust ventilation; and lastly, by deploying respiratory protection if exposure levels remain likely to surpass the revised exposure standard.

In instances of uncertainty or potential health risks, atmospheric monitoring is paramount. Employers should conduct such monitoring when unsure of compliance with relevant exposure standards or when there’s a perceived risk to health.

Additionally, health monitoring may be mandated for workers exposed to specific substances specified by the OHS Regulations, likely to cause harm.

These amendments to workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants received unanimous approval from the majority of the country’s Work Health and Safety Ministers and are duly published by Safe Work Australia.

For a more in-depth understanding and additional resources on the changes, feel free to contact us at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – sales@anitechgroup.com.

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