Workers encounter a wide variety of substances, physical agents and working conditions during the course of their work. Some can cause, contribute to or exacerbate disease and injury either on their own or in combination with other work or non-work risk factors. Safe Work Australia and its predecessors have undertaken a wide range of research on exposure to hazards and risk factors in the workplace.
Hazard surveillance work:
National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance 2008
The Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC), now Safe Work Australia, requested the development and fielding of the National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) survey to determine the current nature and extent of Australian workers’ exposure to selected occupational disease-causing hazards. The NHEWS survey was the first national survey on exposure to workplace hazards in Australia. The survey also collected information from workers about the controls provided in workplaces to eliminate or reduce these hazards. The results of the NHEWS survey identify where workplace exposures exist that may contribute to the onset of one or more of the eight priority occupational diseases identified by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission in 2004. These diseases are occupational cancer, respiratory diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, cardiovascular disease, infectious and parasitic diseases and contact dermatitis.
The ASCC developed the NHEWS survey in collaboration with Australian work health and safety regulators and a panel of experts. These included Dr Tim Driscoll, Dr Anthony LaMontagne, Dr Wendy Macdonald, Dr Rosemary Nixon, Dr Malcolm Sim and Dr Warwick Williams.
In 2008, Sweeney Research conducted the NHEWS survey using computer assisted telephone interviews. Data were collected from 4500 workers in two stages. The first stage (n=1900) focussed on the five national priority industries as determined by NOHSC in 2003 and 2005: Manufacturing; Transport and storage; Construction; Health and community services; and, Agriculture, forestry and fishing. The second stage of the NHEWS survey (n=2600) placed no restrictions on industry.
Eleven reports from NHEWS have been published to date. These include:
- National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS): Survey Handbook
- National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS): Survey Results
- biomechanical demands
- noise exposure
- sunlight exposure
- chemical exposure
- airborne substances
- biological hazards
- wet work hazards
- contact dermatitis
A future report will examine exposure to multiple hazards.
Safe Work Australia works with others on the identification of psychosocial factors that impact on people’s wellbeing and effectiveness at work.
The Australian Workplace Barometer project
This mostly ARC-funded project was conducted in partnership with the Centre for Applied Psychological Research from the University of South Australia, SafeWork South Australia and Safe Work Australia. The project was developed to set national benchmarks and provide evidence to develop best practice standards in the area of worker psychological health and wellbeing. Safe Work Australia will publish a report on key findings from data obtained from six Australian states and territories in late 2012/early 2013. In addition, an edited volume will be published in 2013: Dollard, M.F. & Bailey, T.S. (Eds), Australian Workplace Barometer: Psychosocial Safety Climate and working conditions in Australia: Australian Federation Press.
People at Work project
This is an ARC-funded research project from 2012-2014 managed by the University of Queensland in partnership with The Australian National University, Work Health and Safety Queensland, WorkSafe Victoria and Safe Work Australia. The project aims to increase the capacity of employers to identify and manage psychosocial risks and test the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve the psychosocial working environment. Reports will be published in due course.
Personality and total health (PATH) through life project
This project is a longitudinal study over 20 years examining mental health and cognitive ability across the life span. It is a community survey of 7,485 people from the ACT and Queanbeyan, NSW and includes three cohorts or age groups (birth years 1975–79, 1956–60 and 1937–41) selected at random from the electoral roll. More detail is published on the PATH through Life project webpage.
The original aims of the study were to document the prevalence and incidence of common mental disorders, substance use and cognitive ability across the adult life span, and consider the environmental and genetic risk factors influencing individual differences. Over time the scope of the study has broadened with the addition of a number of sub-studies: normative brain ageing; cardiovascular risk assessment; and a health and memory study of cognitive decline in the elderly. Safe Work Australia’s involvement since 2011 has added new measures relevant to work health and safety. In 2013 Safe Work Australia expects to publish reports on mental and physical workplace factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Exposure to chemical hazards
Residual chemicals in shipping containers
International research has shown high levels of residual gases may be present in shipping containers prior to opening for unpacking. This project aimed to measure actual worker exposures to these residual gases during normal unpacking operations. Video exposure monitoring was used to identify peak exposures. This was complemented by surveys on health symptoms and risk management practices. A report will be published in late 2012 or early 2013.