Air Quality Testing and Standards Compliance
Air quality testing is critical for businesses to ensure they are protecting employees; especially since inhalation of airborne contaminants is the most common cause of chemical exposure.
Australian exposure standards have been set for approximately 700 chemicals, however the standards represents a statutory upper limit rather than an exposure which should be considered acceptable, according to Safe Work Australia’s guide to airborne exposure standards.
Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure chemical exposure is either eliminated or minimised as much as possible.
Failure to do this can result in incurable and potentially deadly diseases, as seen with the re-emergence of black lung in Queensland mines and the high risk of silicosis in Australian construction and tunnel workers.
Under WHS regulations, employers are required to measure the concentration of airborne contaminants in two specific situations:
- When there is uncertainty whether the contaminant exceeds the exposure standards, and
- When monitoring is necessary to determine if there is a health risk due to airborne contaminants.
The results of these tests must be kept for a minimum of 30 years and be available to workers who were at risk of exposure.
However, there are other reasons beyond WHS compliance to invest in workplace air quality testing, including:
- identifying the best minimisation controls or checking the effectiveness of existing methods
- identifying the appropriate level of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) within a class (for a guide to choosing appropriate RPE click here or download the ProChoice safety guide)
- identifying workers who have been exposed or determining whether health monitoring is necessary
Air Quality Testing
Certainty of exposure standards compliance can only be achieved through air monitoring and control measures should be in place when testing is performed. A detailed report should be provided after air monitoring.
Because of the complex nature of air quality testing, it might be necessary to employ a specialist who will be able to determine the needs of your workplace and the best way to monitor air quality and ensure standards compliance.
Whether it is undertaken by an occupational hygienist or another trained person at your workplace, air monitoring should always take place on a typical work day to account for all the normal activities occurring at each site.
Testing should also consider factors such as the nature and duration of a process, the potential for testing errors and whether regular testing is necessary.
When air monitoring is being used to estimate a worker’s exposure, a sample should be taken in the person’s breathing zone or just outside their respirator. This is usually done with a special device attached to the worker’s clothes.
Static samples taken at fixed locations are not able to determine individual exposure and their usefulness is limited to assessing the effectiveness of control measures further up the hierarchy of control.
However, continuous static monitors can be a useful early warning systems in the case of leaks.
Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE)
While elimination of the hazard should always be used as a first preference, respiratory protection equipment (RPE) remains an important last line of defence.
Appropriate RPE should be chosen to match the chemical, task and operator and regular RPE fit testing should be performed before entering a contaminated area, along with negative or positive pressure tests.