Revised workplace exposure standards for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust
- Work Health and Safety (WHS) Ministers agreed by the requisite majority to reduce the workplace exposure standards (WES) for coal dust and respirable crystalline silica.
- Coal dust will be reduced to a time weighted average (TWA) of 1.5 mg/m3
WHS Ministers further agreed that the revised WES for coal dust will apply from 1 October 2022 (allowing for a three year transitional period).
For respirable crystalline silica, WHS Ministers agreed the revised WES will be implemented as soon as practicable. The updated WES for respirable crystalline silica will not have effect in a jurisdiction until it is implemented by that jurisdiction. You can find the state and territory implementation dates here.
Safe Work Australia has published a revised version of the Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants with the new TWA for respirable crystalline silica. For more information about how and when the change to the revised WES will affect you, please contact your WHS regulator.
Exposure to airborne hazardous chemicals in the workplace can pose significant health risks to workers.
Most exposure to these chemicals happens when workers inhale vapours, dusts, fumes or gases, but absorption through the skin may also be a significant source of exposure for some chemicals.
The extent to which a worker is exposed depends on the concentration of the chemical in the air, the amount of time they are exposed and the effectiveness of controls.
Exposure to chemicals may cause immediate acute health effects or it may be decades before effects become evident.
Workplace exposure standards in Australia
Workplace exposure standards (WES) in Australia cover approximately 700 chemicals.
A WES for a particular chemical sets out the legal concentration limit of that chemical that must not be exceeded. These limits are published in the Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants list.
WES are the airborne concentrations of a chemical that are not expected to cause adverse effects on the health of an exposed worker. However, WES are not intended to represent acceptable exposure levels for workers. They are simply the maximum upper limit prescribed by legislation.
WES do not identify a dividing line between a healthy or unhealthy working environment. Everyone is different, and this means that some people might experience adverse health effects below the exposure standard.
Work health and safety duties
A business must ensure that a worker is not exposed to airborne chemicals above the workplace exposure standard.
- The list of Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants also contains key information about how workplace exposure standards are applied under the model WHS Regulations.
- The Guidance on the interpretation of workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants contains further information for businesses.
The model Code of practice: Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace provides guidance on a four-step risk management approach to managing the risks of hazardous chemicals, which is hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and review. See also Identify, assess and control hazards.
Air monitoring for airborne contaminants
To comply with the model WHS Regulations, businesses may need to monitor workers’ exposure to airborne chemicals if:
- there is uncertainty whether or not the exposure standard has been or may be exceeded, or
- it is necessary to work out whether there is a risk to health.
Records of air monitoring must be kept for a minimum of 30 years and must be made available to workers who are exposed.
Review of the workplace exposure standards
We are currently reviewing the workplace exposure standards to ensure they are based on the highest quality evidence and supported by a rigorous, scientific approach. This will result in recommendations for the workplace exposure standard values, notations and the list of chemicals.
Individual evaluation reports for each chemical, including recommendations and supporting information, are being published for public feedback. Refer to the Workplace exposure standards for chemicals review webpage for more information on the review.
Key workplace exposure standards documents
- Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants
- Guidance on the interpretation of workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants
Workplace 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.
SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about compliance with exposure standards in your workplace. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety regulator.