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Chemical Exposure Management A moving target.

Posted by Ian Good on 6 July 2021

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has conducted a review of chemical exposure standards beginning in 2018. The outcome of this review is very likely to lead to significant changes to work practices in Australian workplaces as new products are added, or exposure standards reduced.

Edited extract for SWA website https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/wes-review-criteria-of-sources-wes-notations-and-supporting-data

"Individual evaluation reports for each chemical are being published in 'releases' for public feedback. 

All recommendations for Workplace Exposure Standards (WES) resulting from this review will be considered by Safe Work Australia Members, along with the feedback provided by stakeholders.  Safe Work Australia Members will then make recommendations to Work Health and Safety Ministers as the relevant decision makers.

Changes to the WES only become mandatory once adopted in the WHS laws in the Commonwealth, states and territories. There will be a standard three-year transitional period for duty holders to comply with any amendments".

Note: WorkSafe Victoria is a Member of SWA and the Victorian Health and Safety Regulations 2017 Regulation 5 Definitions.

"exposure standard means an exposure standard set out in the Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants, published by Safe Work Australia on its Internet site".

The releases have covered numerous chemicals used in Australia. Some chemicals have had proposals to increase their WES increased, others decreased and others that did not have a WES listed have been proposed to be added to the list.

One of the chemicals that is proposed to be added to the list is 1-bromopropane, a common component in grease removing and general cleaning aerosols. The benefit of the product is that is does not contain trichloroethylene, a suspected carcinogen, and it is non-flammable, therefor safe to use around exposed electrical equipment.

However, the proposed WES for 1-bromopropane is 0.5mg/m3. The draft report states, "A TWA of 0.1 ppm (0.5 mg/m3) is recommended to protect for neurotoxic and hepatotoxic effects in exposed workers". When a typical industry product is sprayed onto surfaces, based on its vapour pressure, it is very likely that 20% of the product will volatilise. In an unventilated enclosed space of say 50m3, only 1 gram in total of aerosol sprayed would result in an exceedance of the WES. 

Users of products that contain this chemical will have to review their control measures, or find an alternative, as the current use that has been observed in the workplace is very likely to lead to persons being exposure to levels well above the exposure standard.

The above is just one example of the potential ramifications of the WES review. There is a transition period of three years, once the updated list is published, however, employers, manufacturers and importers should begin the process of finding replacements or developing robust control measures.

Author:Ian Good


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