SafeWork Australia have released a regulation impact statement (RIS) on the ongoing workplace exposure standards overhaul, amid concerns the current standards for 229 chemicals are "under-protective".
Industry stakeholders and WHS regulators have raised concerns that the current workplace exposure standards are outdated and placing workers at increased risk of illness or disease from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
SafeWork's review estimates that 13 per cent of the workplace exposure standards are likely to require a new parameter, 35 per cent may require a reduced value, and four per cent may need an increased value.
One example of a potentially outdated WES value is the one for sulphuric acid, which has been linked to lung cancer. Safe Work's RIS says the WES value is an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of one milligram per cubic metre. This is 20 times higher than the TWA of 0.05 milligrams recommended by the European Union's Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits.
The RIS notes that he current process for reviewing and determining a WES value is not standardised, and that the large number of WES values that are outdated indicates the current review process cannot keep up with scientific data and information.
"Secondary to the cost to duty holders and the risk to workers, this process can take up to 10 years to review and update a single workplace exposure standard and costs an estimated $825,000 for Safe Work Australia and WHS regulators."
SafeWork Australia suggests three policy options, and is calling for submissions by the 13th September 2018.
- Maintaining the status quo and continuing to update the WES values individually on an ad hoc basis;
- Maintaining mandatory WES, and implementing a streamlined method for reviewing, updating, adding or removing chemicals; and
- Making the WES advisory rather than mandatory under the WHS Act, and implementing a streamlined review process.
The RIS states that the preferred option is number 2, as it is expected to "provide greater health and safety protection for workers in comparison to the other options and over time, and is expected to lead to a reduction in the overall burden of disease on Australian society."