Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants

Workplace exposure standards are airborne concentrations of a particular chemical or substance in the workers’ breathing zone that should not cause adverse health effects or cause undue discomfort to nearly all workers. Exposure standards are legal concentration limits that must be adhered to.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure that a worker is not exposed to airborne contaminants above the workplace exposure standard. The official list of workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants is contained within the publication Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants. Workplace exposure standards are also available within the Hazardous Substances Information System database here. This database contains additional information and guidance for many substances.

The publication Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants contains key information about how exposure standards are applied and interpreted under the WHS Regulations. Further guidance on their interpretation is available in the Guidance on the Interpretation of Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants, as well as through links for individual chemicals in the HSIS database.

To comply with the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, monitoring of workplace contaminant levels for chemicals with exposure standards may n eed to be carried out if:

  • there is an uncertainty whether or not the exposure standard has been or may be exceeded, or
  • it is necessary to determine whether there is a risk to health.

Records of air monitoring for airborne contaminants must be kept for a minimum of 30 years, and must be available to workers who are exposed.

In November/December 2015, Safe Work Australia held a public consultation process to examine the role of exposure standards and how they could be reviewed and maintained.

This consultation process closed on 18 December and will help inform policy options for the regulation of exposure standards.

Scientific evaluation of workplace exposure standards

In September 2016, Safe Work Australia engaged Golder Associates Pty Ltd to undertake an evaluation of Australia’s list of workplace exposure standards.

The scope of the project includes:

  1. developing a methodology for the assessment and evaluation of workplace exposure standards
  2. assessing the current 644 exposure standards using this methodology to develop a revised list
  3. developing criteria for mandatory exposure standards based on risk and recommending a set of mandatory exposure standards using the criteria
  4. considering whether an updated standard is required for each chemical in the revised list, and if so, recommending a new level for the standard
  5. reporting on the key findings and recommendations, and
  6. stakeholder information and consultations.

If you would like to be informed about the progress of the project or take part in public information and consultation sessions you are invited to subscribe to the ‘Chemical exposure standards’ mailing list on the Safe Work Australia website.

If you have any further questions about the assessment and evaluation of workplace exposure standards please email WES@swa.gov.au.

Key Exposure Standards documents

Exposure Standards of Other Countries

  • GESTIS – International limit values for chemical agents. This database is provided by IFA—an institute for research and testing of the German Social Accident Insurance in Germany.
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Questions should be emailed to info@swa.gov.au.

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