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Airborne contaminants

Exposure to substances or mixtures in the workplace can occur through inhalation, absorption through the skin or ingestion. Most exposure occurs through the inhalation of vapours, dusts, fumes or gases. For some chemicals, absorption through the skin may also be a main source of exposure.

Risk

The response of the body from exposure to substances and mixtures depends on the nature of the substance, the health effects it can cause and the amount of the substance or mixture absorbed by the body. Individuals also have differing abilities to metabolise chemicals which can cause significant changes in the toxic effects between people. The extent to which a person is exposed depends on the concentration of the substance or mixture in the air, the amount of time exposed and the effectiveness of risk controls. Substances and mixtures may cause immediate and negative health effects or it may be decades before effects on the body become evident.

Remedy

There are specific requirements to manage risks arising from exposure to chemicals under Work, Health and Safety legislation, including those associated with exposure standards, airborne contaminants and asbestos. These risks are best managed as per the Safe Work Australia guidance on the interpretation of workplace exposure standards. General duties include but aren’t limited to:

  • Ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, workers and other people are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking.
  • Eliminate health and safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable, and if this is not reasonably practicable, minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

In addition to general duties under the WHS Act, a number of WHS Regulations need to be adhered to. Under most conditions these regulations seek to ensure a PCBU:

  • Manages risks associated with using, handling and storing hazardous chemicals safely including airborne contaminants and asbestos.
  • Ensures that no person at a workplace is exposed to a substance or mixture in an airborne concentration that exceeds the exposure standard for the substance or mixture.
  • Ensures air monitoring is carried out to determine the airborne concentration of a substance or mixture at the workplace to which an exposure standard is applied.
  • Ensures air monitoring results are recorded and kept for 30 years and readily accessible to persons at the workplace who may be exposed to the substance or mixture.
  • Ensures the exposure of a person at the workplace to airborne asbestos is eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable and that the exposure standard for asbestos is not exceeded in the workplace.

Resources

Information SourceContents
Code of Practice - How to Manage Work Health and Safety RisksThis code provides practical guidance for persons who have duties under the WHS Act and Regulations to manage risks to health and safety
Safe Work Australia - Hazardous substances information systemSpecific information relating to the classification and identification of hazardous substances.
Safe Work Australia - Workplace exposure standards for Airborne ContaminantsSpecific information relating to exposure standards for Airborne Contaminants.
Safe Work Australia - Guidance on the Interpretation of Workplace Exposure standards for Airborne ContaminantsGuidance on interpreting Workplace Exposure standards for Airborne Contaminants.
Code of Practice– Managing the work environment and facilitiesCode of Practice for mitigating Work Health and Safety risks associated with the work environment and facilities.
UK Health & Safety Executive - A simple guide to buying and using local exhaust ventilation (LEV).Information on the purchase and use of equipment used to control risks involving Airborne Contaminants

Notifications

Information sourceWhat it contains
Incident notification - Part 3, Section 35 to 37 of the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 -The legislative requirements for incident notification to Comcare
Comcare - Guide to incident notificationHelps you decide whether you need to notify Comcare of an injury, illness or dangerous incident under the WHS Act
Page last updated: 31 Mar 2016