New exposure standard to improve welder safety outcomes

Monday, 29 January, 2024

New exposure standard to improve welder safety outcomes

WorkSafe Victoria has urged employers across the state to assess their control measures for managing welding fumes as nationwide exposure standards are tightened. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, employers are obligated to control the risk of hazardous substances, including airborne contaminants such as welding fumes, and ensure that workers and others in a workplace are not exposed to levels above any relevant exposure standard.

Since 2019, three Victorian workers have died due to disease caused by welding fumes. Workers exposed to welding fumes can suffer a number of short- and long-term health effects, such as eye and respiratory irritation to asthma, metal fume fever, nervous system damage and lung and kidney cancer.

From 18 January 2024, the new workplace exposure standard for welding fumes (not otherwise classified) is 1 mg/m3 as an eight-hour time weighted average, a reduction from 5 mg/m3. This new exposure standard reflects the airborne concentration of a particular substance or mixture that must not be exceeded and is the highest level that a person can usually be exposed to without adverse health effects. Depending on the processes and components used, welding fumes may contain specific substances that have their own exposure standards that could be less than 1 mg/m3.

WorkSafe advises employers to minimise exposure to welding fumes by eliminating, substituting or modifying the welding process, or by using ventilation controls such as on touch extraction or local exhaust ventilation. Workers should also be provided with respiratory protection if exposure is still likely to be above the standard. Atmospheric monitoring should also be conducted when employers are unsure if a relevant exposure standard is being exceeded or where there may be a risk to health. Health monitoring may also be required if workers are exposed to certain substances specified by the OHS Regulations that are likely to cause harm.

The workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants were amended following agreement from the majority of Australia’s work health and safety ministers.

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