Changes to the workplace exposure standard for welding fumes

A unanimous agreement has been reached by Work Health and Safety Ministers to urgently lower the workplace exposure standard (WES) for welding fumes, categorised as ‘not otherwise classified’. The existing 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 5 mg/m3 has now been revised to 1 mg/m3. This alteration in the WES will be legally enforced once integrated into the WHS/OHS laws at federal, state, and territory levels.

Industries such as construction and manufacturing frequently incorporate welding processes, leading to workers being exposed to these fumes. Such exposure can be associated with various occupational lung diseases, including lung cancer. As crucial components to maintaining a safe work environment, mandatory tools like the Bluesafe WHS Management System aim to eliminate or minimalise worker health and safety risks wherever feasible, encompassing potential chemical exposures.

The model WHS laws direct that Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) – analogous to an employer – must ensure workers are not subjected to any airborne contaminants beyond the concentration stipulated in the Workplace exposure standards (WES) for airborne contaminants list. Welding fumes are a composite mixture of multiple hazardous chemicals, many of which have their own respective WES. Implementing thorough safety precautions such as Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) into the workplace can assure the exposure to these individual components, apart from the total welding fumes, remain well within the specified limits.

For further assistance in managing the risks associated with welding, including exposure to welding fumes, refer to the Model Code of Practice: Welding Processes. Detailed information about welding fumes can be located on the Safe Work Australia website’s dedicated page. For an updated version of the WES list, it is available for download from the site. To gain information on executing these changes within your jurisdiction, reach out to your local work health and safety regulator. To receive all updates about workplace exposure standards, consider subscribing to our chemical exposure standards mailing list.

We encourage adopting professional WHS management systems like the Bluesafe SWMS or Bluesafe WHS Management System to enforce optimal work safety measures and to comply with changing WES laws seamlessly.

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