We are continually working to obtain accurate and useful information on the number of Australian workers who might be exposed to hazards that could cause work-related diseases, and how workplaces are controlling potential exposure.
We want to enable early and timely intervention to prevent or minimise exposure to hazards that could cause work-related diseases, especially those with a long latency.
We use several research approaches to obtain information about workplace exposures to disease-causing hazards, including national surveys, case studies, specific industry and hazard-based surveys, focus groups as well as exposure measurement projects.
National surveys provide general information about worker exposures. For example, we carried out a national survey of self-reported exposure to occupational hazards to obtain national estimates of exposure to disease-causing hazards.
Our research identified workers at risk of exposure to particular hazards such as loud noise, chemicals, biological hazards and biomechanical demands as well as control measures that workers reported as being provided in their workplace for these hazards.
Collaborations with the Australian research community
Some of our research involves collaborations with the Australian research community. For example, we are involved in a National Health and Medical Research Council Partnership project led by Dr Lin Fritschi of Curtin University examining work-related exposure to agents that cause or aggravate asthma (asthmagens).
Recently published research from this study shows that about one in two male Australian workers are probably exposed to at least one asthmagen in their workplace based on self-reported information on the tasks they carry out and controls used to prevent exposures at work.
We have also been involved in a number of Australian Research Council funded collaborative research projects on psychosocial hazards, for example the Australian Workplace Barometer Project and the People at Work Project.
National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance survey 2008
The 2008 NHEWS survey was the first national survey on exposure to workplace hazards in Australia. It investigated Australian workers’ exposure to selected occupational disease-causing hazards, based on one or more of the eight priority occupational diseases identified by the NOHSC in 2004.
The survey also collected information from workers about the controls provided in workplaces to eliminate or reduce these hazards.
Data were collected from 4,500 workers.
Hazard and industry specific studies
In addition to research on self-reported exposures, we have carried out small, targeted studies on specific hazards such as manual tasks, noise, dust and workplace chemicals, or in specific industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction and health. We expect to complete research examining exposures to noise, dust, vibration and chemicals on small mixed grain and livestock farms in Western Australia in 2017.
Australian Workplace Exposures Study
The 2011 AWES investigated self-reported work-related exposures to 38 known or suspected carcinogens among Australian workers. This research provided an opportunity to gain a better understanding of exposure to carcinogens when Australian workers carry out relatively common tasks at work like cooking, preparing surfaces for painting and repairing equipment powered by combustion engines.
The AWES research was led by the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Cancer Council Australia.
Telephone interviews were carried out using a population-based sample and responses to task-based questions were analysed using an automated expert assessment method to assess if a worker might be exposed to carcinogens at work, then, taking into account controls being used by the worker, to assess the potential level of exposure.
Researchers then used the data to re-examine the potential burden of work-related cancer.
The Extended Australian Workplace Exposure Study
The 2014 AWES-2 used the AWES methodology to investigate self-reported work-related exposures to agents that cause or aggravate asthma. The Curtin University of Technology led this research.
National occupational hazard and risk management surveillance
We investigate exposures to hazards associated with priority work disorders within priority industries using small, targeted studies for specific industry sub-sectors and hazards. NOHARMS projects included exposure measurements where possible, and workers and managers were asked about risk management practices and the use of controls.
The first NOHARMS project investigated exposure to noise, dust, vibration and chemicals on small mixed grain and livestock farms in Western Australia.
We work with others to identify psychosocial factors that affect workers’ health, wellbeing and productivity.
The Australian Workplace Barometer project
Australian Workplace Barometer project provided evidence of Australian work conditions and their relationship to workplace health and productivity through a national monitoring and surveillance system.
Carried out in 2010, the project was mainly funded by the Australian Research Council in partnership with the Centre for Applied Psychological Research at the University of South Australia, SafeWork South Australia and Safe Work Australia.
It collected data from six Australian states and territories to set national benchmarks and provide evidence to develop best practice standards in worker psychological health and wellbeing. It is also informed policy development, intervention targets and where resources should go.
People at Work
A psychosocial risk assessment tool that includes resources to help organisations identify, manage and evaluate injury prevention and management interventions is now available from the Work Health and Safety Queensland website.
The free assessment tool called People at Work, was developed by the Queensland University of Technology (initially the University of Queensland) in partnership with The Australian National University, Work Health and Safety Queensland, WorkCover New South Wales, WorkSafe Victoria, Comcare, Beyondblue and Safe Work Australia, with funding from the ARC. It helps employers identify workplace risks and focuses on prevention.
People at Work provides organisations with access to:
- A reliable and valid psychosocial risk assessment tool that is free.
- Resources to help implement a psychosocial risk management approach and evaluate the effectiveness of chosen interventions.
Personality and total health (PATH) through life
This project is a longitudinal study over 20 years examining mental health and cognitive ability across a person’s adulthood.
It is a community survey of 7,485 people from the ACT and Queanbeyan in NSW and includes three age cohorts (born in 1975–1979, 1956–1960 and 1937–1941) selected at random from the electoral roll. More detail is published on the PATH Through Life project webpage.
Originally the study’s aims included documenting the prevalence and incidence of common mental disorders, substance use and cognitive ability across an adult life span, and considering the environmental and genetic risk factors influencing individual differences.
Over time the scope of the study has broadened to include normative brain ageing, cardiovascular risk assessment and a health and memory study of cognitive decline in the elderly.
Our involvement since 2011 has added new measures relevant to WHS.
We provide policy direction, carry out research and provide guidance on the potential WHS implications from applications of nanotechnology.