New workplace exposure limits for airborne contaminants

Monday, 29 April, 2024

New workplace exposure limits for airborne contaminants

Work health and safety (WHS) ministers have agreed to a new workplace exposure limit and a harmonised transition period ending on 30 November 2026. This follows extensive consultation to revise the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants (WES). The workplace exposure limits (WEL) will replace the current WES.

The WES will be renamed as workplace exposure limits (WEL) to make it clear that these are a limit that should not be exceeded and for Australia to align with terms used internationally.

From 1 December 2026, following the implementation into the WHS laws of the Commonwealth, states and territories, the workplace exposure limits will be adopted throughout Australia. Until 1 December 2026, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must ensure no person is exposed to an airborne concentration of an airborne contaminant higher than its exposure standard listed in the WES List.

While most exposure limits will remain unchanged, the WES Review includes reductions and increases in limits for certain chemicals and the removal or introduction of new limits for others. Following the WES Review, Safe Work Australia is working to determine how to best regulate 33 airborne contaminants that are non-threshold genotoxic carcinogens (NTGCs) and do not have a safe exposure limit. PCBUs must continue to comply with the exposure standards set out for these airborne contaminants in the WES List until 1 December 2026.

New guidance is also being developed to support PCBUs during the transition to the WEL. These resources will be published throughout the transition period and beyond. WHS ministers have also requested impact analysis on the proposed changes to the exposure standards for the following chemicals/substances before their WEL limit is updated in the WEL:

  • respirable crystalline silica
  • formaldehyde
  • benzene
  • chlorine
  • copper (fumes, dusts and mists)
  • hydrogen cyanide
  • hydrogen sulfide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • titanium dioxide.

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