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    Are your workers exposed to hazardous chemicals?

     

    The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act places a duty on a person conducting a business or undertaking to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health of workers is monitored to prevent illness or injury.

    The WHS Regulations place specific duties on a person conducting a business or undertaking to provide health monitoring to workers who use hazardous chemicals, including workers who are exposed to lead and asbestos.

    Health monitoring means monitoring of a person to identify changes in the person’s health status because of exposure to certain substances. Health monitoring must be carried out by or be done under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner with experience in health monitoring. There are different types of health monitoring procedures used to assess exposure to hazardous chemicals, including:

    Interview questions

    This involves asking the worker questions about previous occupational history, medical history, lifestyle (for example dietary, smoking and drinking habits), and about symptoms related to exposure. It may also involve simple questions about how workers carry out their work, their personal hygiene at work or where they eat in the workplace. All of these questions provide information to assess current or previous exposure to hazardous chemicals.

    Medical examination

    This involves the use of standard clinical and medical assessments, tests and techniques to assess the presence of early or long term health effects, often at set intervals. It can include an assessment of medical history, occupational and previous exposure history, and a clinical examination. This can also include tests like spirometry (for testing lung function) and radiography, for example, a chest x-ray.

    Biological effect monitoring

    This is the measurement and assessment of early biological effects before health impairment occurs in exposed workers, for example measurement of reduction of cholinesterase activity levels in workers exposed to organophosphate pesticides.

    Biological exposure monitoring

    This involves measurement and evaluation of the levels of a hazardous chemical or its metabolites (break-down products) in body tissues, body fluids like urine or blood —for example blood lead levels, urinary cadmium—or in exhaled breath of an exposed person

    Choosing the most appropriate health monitoring method will depend on the type of chemical involved, the way the worker is exposed, the level of exposure, and if it is possible to use a proactive method, like biological exposure monitoring, which can show unacceptable levels of exposure to hazardous chemicals before adverse symptoms develop—rather than reactive methods, like a medical examination, which looks for signs and symptoms after they have developed. In many cases, more than one monitoring method may be used.

    Although health monitoring is aimed primarily at identifying effects from workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals, it may also inadvertently capture information about exposures outside of work.

    Health monitoring does not include air monitoring or other measures used to assess or control exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Health monitoring must never be used as an alternative to putting in place effective control measures. However, it can be used to help identify whether existing control measures are working effectively or whether new or more effective control measures should be implemented. It also provides a valuable opportunity for feedback to the employer from workers on the effectiveness of control measures.

    It is important to remember health monitoring will only be effective if you act on the results. You should know when workers should be referred for further examination and how the results should be used to minimise risks to health and safety.

    Jobfit can provide your business with health monitoring that meets Safework Australia guidelines for workers who are exposed to hazardous chemicals.  Please call 1800 994 808 or email info@jobfit.com.au for further information. 

    Source: Safework Australia, Health Monitoring For Exposure To Hazardous Chemicals: Guide For Persons Conducting A Business Or Undertaking, accessed 26 November 2013 http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/754/Guide-PCBU-Health-Monitoring-Exposure-Hazardous-Chemicals.pdf