Managing risks of airborne contaminants

Exposure to substances or mixtures in the workplace occurs through inhalation, skin contact or by ingestion and can cause serious health issues. Although skin absorption is a significant source of exposure for some chemicals, the majority of exposures occur through inhalation of hazardous chemicals as vapours, dusts, particles, fibres, fumes or gases or combinations of these.

A person conducting a business or undertaking must take steps to eliminate or, if the risk cannot be eliminated, minimise the risk of exposure to workers from hazardous chemicals and the risk of exposure to airborne contaminants.

How to manage the risks of airborne contaminants

The airborne concentration of any substance or mixture hazardous to health must be kept as low as practicable to minimise the risk of health effects.

In simple cases the risk of airborne contaminants can be managed through the application of basic controls like increasing ventilation or providing workers with protective equipment. However higher-risk operations which generate airborne contaminants require engineering controls like local exhaust ventilation, fume cupboards, down-flow booths or mechanical extraction. The model Code of Practice: Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace provides practical guidance on minimising the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals by implementing the hierarchy of controls.

Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants Exposure standards are an important tool in assessing the risk to workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals. Approximately 700 substances and mixtures have regulated exposure standards. For these substances worker exposures are not permitted to exceed the standard.

There are also many other hazardous substances and mixtures used in workplaces which do not have an exposure standard.

To determine whether an exposure standard is being exceeded, or if there is uncertainty, air monitoring may be required. Health monitoring may also be required for workers who are at risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals or asbestos.

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