Airborne contaminants are hazardous to your health and can be in dust, mist, vapour or gas form (e.g. silica dust, welding fumes, solvent vapours). You may or may not be able to see these in the air. If workers or other people (e.g. visitors) inhale these contaminants they can become unwell.
Depending on the substance, the effects can be immediate or long term. Common short-term (or acute) health effects may include headaches, forgetfulness, drowsiness, feeling dizzy and sick, mood changes, and eye and skin irritation.
Long-term (or chronic) effects may include sleep disorders, memory loss, cancer, organ damage, fertility problems and death.
Health of workers
Wearing any type of Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) could physically or mentally stress workers. For example:
- workers could feel claustrophobic, isolated or anxious when wearing helmets, hoods or full facepieces (training may help overcome these feelings).
- tight-fitting respirators can impose an extra burden on heart and lungs – especially for workers who wear respirators for long periods and suffer from:
- heart disease
- epileptic seizures
- a facial injury or dental treatment that affects how well the facepiece seals to the face.
If relevant, workers should undergo a medical examination to check that they are able to wear RPE. Further medical assessments may be needed (e.g. if a worker reports signs or symptoms that affect their ability to use a respirator, information is gained during fit testing that may indicate it).
Health monitoring must be provided if:
- a worker is using, handling, generating or storing hazardous chemicals, and
- the work is ongoing, and
- there is a significant risk to the worker's health because of exposure.
As the level of risk depends on the frequency, duration and level of exposure, carrying out a risk assessment is the best way to decide if there is significant risk to a worker’s health or not.
If risks are significant but not adequately controlled or there is uncertainty about the degree of risk, health monitoring is required. Any control measures already in place should also be reviewed and revised in this instance, to ensure the risk is eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.
Health monitoring is a way to check if the health of workers is being harmed from exposure to hazards while carrying out work and aims to detect early signs of ill-health or disease. Health monitoring can show if control measures are working effectively. Health monitoring does not replace the need for control measures to minimise or prevent exposure.
Exposure is considered high, where the chemical’s airborne concentration is more than 50 percent of the workplace exposure standard.
Hazardous chemicals for which health monitoring may be required under the Work Health and Safety Regulations include:
- a chemical listed in schedule 14 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2012, and
- any other hazardous chemical for which there is a valid test method for detecting health effects or exposure.
Use the following table as a guide to whether health monitoring may be required:
|Level of exposure||Known control measures are in place||Not all known control measures are in place|
Exposure is well below a level that could harm health|
(levels below 50 per cent of the WES)
|Not required||Not required|
Exposure is at a level that could harm health|
(levels over 50 per cent of the WES)
|Exposure to a chemical that is highly toxic||Not required||Required|
|It is reasonably foreseeable leaks or spills may occur||Not required||Required|
|Uncertain about the risk to health or level of exposure*||Required||Required|
* Health monitoring will be required when persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) regularly use administrative controls or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to control risks.
If uncertain about the risk to health, you can seek specialist advice from an occupational hygienist or registered medical practitioner with experience in health monitoring.
- Health monitoring
- Work-related respiratory diseases - Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
- Health monitoring when you work with hazardous chemicals guide - Safe Work Australia
- Health monitoring for persons conducting a business or undertaking guide - Safe Work Australia