Health monitoring, or health surveillance, is a requirement for any employer exposing their workers to hazardous substances in the course of work. Work Health Professionals conduct onsite health monitoring in Perth and around WA.
Where there is risk to a workers health through exposure to hazardous substances, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has the responsibility of providing health monitoring at no cost to their employees.
Safe Work Australia (SWA) has identified occupational lung diseases as a key priority in its 10-year Australian Work Health Safety Strategy.
Onsite health monitoring
Mobile facilities: In Perth our mobile facilities can come to your work site, or we can conduct the health assessments from a quiet room at your workplace.
FIFO: we provide onsite health monitoring for remote sites in WA. We bring all of the equipment with us.
Health monitoring in the workplace refers to the health monitoring of employees where there is a risk to health from exposure to certain hazardous substances and environmental exposures such as noise.
There are 16 hazardous substances listed in Schedule 5.3 of the OSH Regulations 1996:
- Acrylonitrile, Arsenic (inorganic), Asbestos, Benzene, Cadmium
- Chromium (inorganic), Creosote, Silica (crystalline), Isocyanates
- Mercury (inorganic), MOCA4,4’-methylene bis 2-chloroaniline,
- Organophosphate pesticides, Pentachlorophenol (PCP)
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), Thallium, Vinyl chloride
The legislation requires employers to identify, quantify and manage hazards in the workplace. Any conditions, including substances, that may negatively affect health, among other things, must be monitored for biological effects through health monitoring, also known as health surveillance.
Health surveillance in Perth must be supervised by an Appointed Medical Practitioner, such as Work Health Professionals’ Occupational Physicians. An employer has the responsibility of providing health surveillance at no cost to their employees, and to appoint a medical practitioner to supervise health monitoring for their employees.
Health monitoring assessments
These may include:
- completion of a workplace questionnaire
- medical examination
- blood or urine tests
- lung function tests or spirometry
- chest x-rays, or
- other health tests relevant to the substance.
Exposure to noise also requires health surveillance. Regular audiometric testing and ear plug fit testing can help to prevent noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL remains one of the most common Workers Compensation claims in Australia.
Airborne hazards in the workplace, such as dusts, gases, vapours, smoke and fumes have the potential to cause or exacerbate a range of serious respiratory disease such as occupational asthma, asbestosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancers of the respiratory system (eg. mesothelioma and lung cancer).
Exposure to these substances can occur through inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Most exposure occurs through the inhalation of vapours, dusts, fumes or gases.
Examples of 4 potentially dangerous air contaminants that often require air monitoring and/or health surveillance include:
Air monitoring for workplace dust
Air monitoring is important to ensure you understand the levels of exposure of different hazards in your workplace, and if health surveillance of your workers is required.
Workplace dust can be inhaled when dust is created by cutting, sanding, drilling or grinding; or when it’s disturbed – for example, during office renovations or during earth works.
Requirements for health monitoring
The over-riding goal of any exposure monitoring or health surveillance program is to identify hazards that employees may face while undertaking their daily duties.
- Do you know if you are required by WorkSafe WA to monitor the health of employees exposed to hazardous substances in your workplace?
The legislation requires employees to identify, quantify and manage hazards in the workplace. Any conditions, including substances, that may negatively affect health must, among other things, be monitored for biological effects through medical surveillance.
- Health monitoring has the specific advantage of being able to take into account individual responses to particular hazardous chemicals.
- The frequency of testing is determined by the type of the hazardous substance, the nature of the work, the exposure, previous health surveillance results and the presence of other risk factors.
Our Occupational Physicians will provide a recommendation on the frequency of health surveillance, with reference to the guidance provided in Health Monitoring For Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals – Guide for Medical Practitioners.
Health monitoring is not an alternative to implementing control measures. If the results indicate that a worker is experiencing adverse health effects or signs of exposure to a hazardous chemical, the control measure must be reviewed and if necessary revised.
If you are not sure of your Health Surveillance obligations, feel free to contact us so we can help.
Legislation for health surveillance
- Occupational Safety & Health Act, 1984
- Administered by WorkSafe Western Australia
- Department of Consumer and Employment Protection – Resources Safety Guidelines
- Employers must demonstrate a ‘Duty of Care’ by providing all employees with a safe work environment, including suitable training and preparation for all job criteria.
- This also includes knowledge of quantifiable hazards including substances in the workplace, often through an air monitoring program
We have found that the repealed Mine Workers Health Surveillance legislation has made many of our clients analyse their needs only to realise that they need more surveillance not less.
Health monitoring program
There are serious health effects associated with occupational exposure to many workplace substances such as crystalline silica, isocyanates, asbestos, acrylamides, solvents, diesel exhaust, dust and others.
Exposure to these substances can occur through inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Most exposure occurs through the inhalation of vapours, dusts, fumes or gases. In many situations of workplace air contaminant exposure, health surveillance is legally required.
A Health Monitoring program, managed by one of our qualified Occupational Physicians, is specifically designed to identify any physiological changes to employees caused by the identified hazardous substance in the workplace.
Health monitoring helps to identify possible excessive exposure to a hazardous substance before the person’s health is significantly affected, in order to prevent serious illness occurring. It enables feedback to the workplace for improvements to safe work practices. This health surveillance or health monitoring ensures the management of employee health, including the significantly increased risk of lung disease or even cancer.