Every year, an estimated 600-900 people die in New Zealand from work-related health issues and a further 5,000-6,000 are hospitalised with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic illnesses from workplace exposure to airborne contaminants.
Dust and other airborne particulates are a difficult hazard to manage, as the particles that cause the most damage are very difficult to detect visually. Normally the only time you’ll see them is during the late afternoon as the sun shines through a crack or window and creates a haze or shaft of light. WorkSafe NZ have launched the Clean Air programme, which is their first targeted intervention on work-related health. To reduce the risk of exposure to airborne contaminants, businesses can do the following.
Eliminate Airborne Contaminants from the workplace
PCBUs must eliminate the risk if it’s reasonably practicable. For example, isocyanate paints can be eliminated from the workplace by replacing them with water-based paints.
If elimination isn’t reasonably practicable, minimise worker exposure to these products. Examples for silica dust are to fit extraction systems or use water suppression systems.
Issue Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
If a risk to health still remains, supply RPE to workers. Make sure they know why they need to wear it, how to use it and that it fits properly.
RPE should not be the sole method of reducing risk. It must be used alongside other minimisation controls.
Fit test RPE
Fit testing is very important. RPE works if it forms a seal around the wearer’s nose and mouth. Fit testing is conducted by trained specialists. Your safety gear supplier can help you locate one.
Monitor workers’ exposure to airborne contaminants
Monitor workers’ exposure to airborne contaminants to check the levels of dust, vapour or fumes being created. Always consider if those levels can be further reduced. Exposure monitoring can help you find out if workers are being exposed to a hazard at harmful levels or detect whether the controls you have in place for that hazard are adequate.
Monitor workers’ lung health annually. This also helps you know whether the controls are working, and may detect early symptoms of work-related ill-health.
Provide workers with information and training
Make sure workers know about the health risks and controls for airborne contaminants. ‘Toolbox talks’ can be useful here.
Make sure workers understand the risks, what they need to do to protect themselves, and why it’s important to take part in exposure and health monitoring.
To learn how our qualified Occupational Hygiene Team can help you reduce the risk of respiratory ill-health in your workplace, call us on 0800 487 439 or email firstname.lastname@example.org