Occupational Hygiene Hazards: How Exposed Are We?

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Australian workers are regularly exposed to occupational hygiene hazards. Long term exposure can create serious diseases such as black lung disease for coal miners,  permanent damage to hearing, spinal and back pain as a result of the impact of vibration by working on machines and using larger hand operated tools and poisoning through handling chemicals. Any one of these on their own can cause a serious reduction to health and long term disability as workers age, but the Safe Work Australia findings from the National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) survey show that it is not uncommon for workers to receive multiple co-exposures.

The report examined exposure to noise, vibration, biological materials, bio-mechanical demands, wet work, skin contact with chemicals, airborne hazards and sun exposure. The results showed that:

  • 62% of workers reported exposure to multiple types of occupational hygiene hazards
  • 20% reported exposure to at least five hazards
  • 25–34 years old had the highest odds of exposure to most multiple exposures
  • 25% reported that they had incomplete or no access to control measures for the multiple hazards that they reported being exposed to
  • High job demands (stress),  exposure to airborne hazards and chemicals were the most reported hazards

Almost a third of male workers reported co-exposure to noise and vibration compared to 5% of female workers. A third of young workers (15-24 years) reported exposure compared to 13% for workers over 55 years. Those working longer hours were more likely to report exposure to both noise and vibration. Almost 25% reported co-exposure to chemical and airborne hazards.

Young labourers, technicians and trades workers were most at risk of multiple exposure to occupational hygiene hazards. Young workers are particularly vulnerable because of their inexperience and lack of knowledge about hazards at work. An Australian study of apprentices showed that young workers often had high job rotations that exposed them to hazards with often insufficient knowledge of the hazards associated with each workplace. Young workers are also more likely to be employed in smaller businesses where health and safety knowledge and risk management is generally lower.

Tap into Safety provides specific training in hazard perception that is particularly useful for younger workers because it offers interactive and engaging WHS training that is delivered via smart devices and online. This appeals to young workers who are generally comfortable with technology. Our software has been designed to support workers with low literacy or minimal English language capabilities. we don’t use Powerpoint, we use real workplace photographic, panoramic examples that workers relate to because they show their work sites. The training is delivered in 15 minute modules and can be accessed by sub-contractors with their competencies verified before they step foot on site. A number of construction firms are actively using Tap Into Safety Platform with outstanding results of reduced injuries and increased hazard reporting activities.

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