The following article is an abridgement of a news article originally published on the Safe Work Australia website.
Work Health and Safety Ministers have agreed to an immediate reduction in the workplace exposure standard (WES) for welding fumes. The 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) has been reduced from 5 mg/m3 to 1 mg/m3.
The change to the WES will become mandatory once implemented in the WHS/OHS laws across the Commonwealth, states, and territories.
Welding fumes are a complex mix of hazardous chemicals that are generated when metals, solvents, flux, paint and plastics are heated and joined together. Welding processes are prevalent in many industries, including construction and manufacturing. Workers exposed to welding fumes can develop occupational lung diseases, including lung cancer. They can also cause irritation, tightness, asphyxiation, asthma, metal fume fever, bronchitis, pneumonia or emphysema.
Under the model WHS laws, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), such as employers, must eliminate or minimise health and safety risks, including those associated with chemical exposure. PCBUs must ensure that workers are not exposed to any airborne contaminant above the concentration listed in the WES for airborne contaminants.
The model Code of Practice: welding processes provides guidance to manage the risks associated with welding, including exposure to welding fumes.
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Changes to the workplace exposure standard for welding fumes by Safe Work Australia, 18th January, 2024.