NSW has recently become the second Australian state to ban the use of firefighting foam that contains perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). While the health effects of these substances on human beings are still being studied, they are known to be toxic to fish and some animals.
If you have fire extinguishers on your premises, you should check whether they contain PFAS, and if so, make a plan to replace them.
PFAS are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been in use since the 1950s to make products designed to resist heat, stains, grease or water.
In 2017, the ABC’s Four Corners programme revealed that PFAS-containing firefighting foams had contaminated soil and groundwater at a number of Australian Defence Force facilities.
According to the Australian Department of Health, this kind of contamination is of concern ‘because these chemicals are highly persistent, have been shown to be toxic to fish and some animals, and can accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people who come into contact with them’.
The National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University is conducting an epidemiological study about the possible health effects of PFAS exposure on human beings, with reporting of results expected later in 2021.
In the meantime, the NSW Government has taken the initiative to ban the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam, except in fighting catastrophic fires or where there are special exemptions.
NSW becomes the second jurisdiction in Australia to introduce a ban on use of fluorinated foams, after South Australia introduced a similar ban in 2018. The NSW Government has described the changes as a key step for the state towards achieving the objectives agreed in the National PFAS Position Statement prepared by federal, state and territory governments.
The regulations will take effect progressively:
It will be interesting to see whether NSW takes a similar approach to South Australia, where the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued a number of temporary exemptions to industry on specified conditions. The NSW EPA has confirmed that exemptions will only be issued on a limited basis, and will be time-bound to encourage prompt movement towards compliance with the new requirements.
The NSW EPA has also advised it will publish additional guidance material on PFAS management in 2021, to help the regulated community comply with their new obligations. The guidance is likely to address:
Most businesses have fire extinguishers on site. While the new regulations provide a transition period, if you’re in NSW, now is the time when you should be reviewing your fire extinguisher program, and making a plan to replace any PFAS-containing products.
If you manage an industrial facility in NSW with firefighting training grounds, you should review your use of PFAS-containing products now.
Wherever you are in Australia, regulations around PFAS are being regularly reviewed by state and territory governments and EPAs. Make sure you keep up to date so you don’t miss any changes.
Appropriate management, storage and disposal of PFAS can be complex. Airsafe can help your organisation by conducting a risk assessment and advising on the steps you should take, following the framework set out in the PFAS National Environment Management Plan 2.0.
We’re delighted that the recently redesigned Airsafe website has won a 2021 Australian Web Award, in the category of Medium Business.
The Australian Web Awards recognise the best in the Australian digital industry. An expert panel assesses entries on the basis of design, usability and accessibility, and only the best emerge as winners.
Designed and developed by our friends at Humaan, our winning website is all about making our services easier to find and understand, especially as our business has expanded nationwide and our service offering has diversified.
We know many of our customers are in a hurry and a lot of our visits to our website come from mobile phones. So we’ve focused on giving everyone a smooth, easy to use experience, no matter what device they’re using.
We’re delighted with the award, and we thank Humaan for their hard work and the brilliant result.
Welding can generate fumes and ultraviolet (UV) radiation, both of which have been linked to cancer. Welding fumes can cause lung cancer, and are linked to kidney and bladder cancer if safety precautions are not taken. Welding-related UV radiation can cause melanoma.
In 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (a branch of the World Health Organization) determined there was sufficient evidence to upgrade welding fumes’ carcinogenic status, and to classify UV radiation for the first time. They made the following changes:
How welding generates fumes and UV radiation
Fumes, mists, dust, vapours, and gases, including ozone, can all be generated during welding. Some are visible, but many are not.
The amount and form of fumes emitted depends on the process and materials used in welding. Different metals, solvents, flux, paint, and plastics can all generate different fumes.
UV radiation comes from electric arcs generated during arc welding. The amount of UV radiation generated is significant; it can travel long distances from arcs, especially in reflective environments; and it can produce large amounts of ozone.
Welding fume obligations under existing legislation
Under the Model WHS legislative framework, employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have the responsibility:
Workplace Exposure Standard may be lowered
Safe Work Australia (SWA) has proposed lowering the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for Chromium VI from 0.05 mg/m3 to 0.000007 mg/m3 (7 ng/m3).
If this new, significantly lower WES is adopted, it will have a number of implications for the measurement and assessment of welding fume.
Specific hazards and control measures
To determine the risk of fume exposure while welding, you must first determine what equipment and materials are being used, as well as the amount of fumes, dust, vapour, and gases generated.
For example, when steel that has been coated with a rust-proofing compound is welded, phosphine is produced. Phosphine gas in high concentrations irritates the eyes, nose, and skin and has the potential to cause harm to lungs and other organs. To avoid phosphine contamination in this situation, you will first look for rust-proofed steel in the material to be welded.
Whatever materials you’re working with, Airsafe can help you determine the appropriate control measures.
How else can Airsafe help?
Airsafe’s experienced occupational hygienists can:
Avoid risking your team’s health: call Airsafe on 1300 810 796 .
In the past, asbestos-containing board and sheeting products used in construction have generally been classed as bonded or non-friable asbestos. This means the risk of asbestos exposure is considered low unless the products are damaged – for example, by being drilled or sawed.
However, WorkSafe Queensland have made an exception for one type of product, known as asbestos low-density board (LDB). This material, also known as Asbestolux or Duralax, is now classed as friable, meaning the risk of exposure is considered high.
Because of this reclassification, from 1 May 2021, any removals of low-density asbestos board in Queensland must be performed by a Class A licenced asbestos removal contractor in conjunction with an Independent Licensed Asbestos Assessor.
While Queensland is the only state to have made this change so far, it’s a good reminder to home and business owners throughout Australia to treat low-density asbestos fibreboard with extra caution.
LDB is a lightly compressed board containing asbestos fibres in a calcium silicate plaster. It is sometimes referred to as asbestos insulating board.
LDB can contain up to 70 per cent asbestos fibres by volume. By contrast, asbestos cement sheeting typically contains between five to 20 per cent asbestos.
LDB was manufactured from the 1950s to the 1970s as a flat sheet, or a perforated sheeting product used for acoustic ceiling applications. It was typically used for internal wall and ceiling panels and as acoustic insulation.
Friable asbestos is defined by Safe Work Australia as asbestos-containing material that is “in a powder form or that can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry”.
Because friable asbestos releases more fibres into the air than non-friable asbestos, the risk to health is greater, and therefore extra precautions must be taken when dealing with it.
If LDB is in good condition and left undisturbed it presents a low risk to building occupants. But if LDB is broken, removed or disturbed without precautions and controls in place, the potential for asbestos fibres to be released is high. This is because of LDB’s high asbestos content and the ease with which it becomes damaged.
More needs to be done to minimise risks when managing, maintaining or removing LDB than would normally be used for asbestos cement sheeting. This is the why WorkSafe Queensland has reclassified the product.
LDB may be managed in place if it is in good condition and the risk of damage or disturbance is low. Otherwise, it should be prioritised for removal, as its disturbance can release asbestos fibres.
As per the model Work Health and Safety Regulation, hazards must be controlled in accordance with the hierarchy of controls. The hierarchy of controls (in order of effectiveness) is:
Removal of LDB must be done in accordance with your state’s work health and safety (WHS) Regulations.
More information is provided in the Code of Practice: How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace, and the Code of Practice: How to safely remove asbestos.
An asbestos removal licence is required to remove any amount of friable asbestos.
The removal of LDB will also trigger other requirements as stipulated by your state’s regulator, including an Asbestos Removal Control Plan (ARCP) and the engagement of an independent, third party Licensed Asbestos Assessor (LAA).
Airsafe offers asbestos testing services to identify the type of asbestos present. Airsafe is NATA accredited in accordance with the Australian Standard AS 4964 — Method for the qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples. We collect samples for testing, then conduct testing in our state-of-the-art laboratory.
Our independence and NATA accreditation ensure sample integrity, and the high level of expertise of our staff means you can trust our test results. Our customer satisfaction and industry reputation are second to none.
Airsafe can carry out a risk assessment to identify any risks associated with the identified asbestos-containing materials (ACM), in accordance with the HSE [UK] HSG264 Asbestos: The Survey Guide.
The assessor will carry the inspection by undertaking a preliminary walk-through followed by sampling of representative suspect materials, which will be analysed by qualified personnel. An assessment algorithm gives a total risk score, which determines the potential of asbestos fibre release.
Airsafe carries out asbestos air monitoring and testing services in accordance with the Guidance Note on the Membrane Filter Method for Estimating Airborne Asbestos Fibres 2nd Edition [NOHSC: 3003 (2005)].
Airsafe is NATA accredited to perform air monitoring and analysis.
Questions about low density asbestos fibreboard? Call Airsafe on 1300 888 338.
During construction, the use of heavy machinery may cause noise and vibration. Exposure to this noise and vibration can carry health risks for workers.
With our many years of expertise in occupational hygiene, Airsafe can measure noise and vibration levels with complete accuracy, and advise you on the best way to mitigate any risks.
Noise can be either airborne or ground-borne.
Airborne noise may be continuous, impulsive or intermittent, and may contain high pitch or low dominating tones. The perception of noise by people, animals and environments can vary widely. It depends upon many factors including frequency. Airborne noise is measured by a sound meter using the decibel scale.
Ground-borne noise is noise heard within a building that is generated by vibration transmitted through the ground into a structure. It is typically heard as a low frequency rumbling. It’s often referred to as “regenerated noise”. Ground-borne noise is also measured by a sound meter.
The impact of noise depends on its source and the proximity of the receiver. Different people have different reactions and sensitivities to noise.
The amount of noise generated by construction activity depends on the site and the type of work. For instance, noise levels from above ground activities such as demolition and removal of excavated material will be different to noise from those associated with underground activities such as tunnelling.
Where required, noise monitoring equipment can be installed to monitor noise levels, so their impact can be mitigated if they are too high.
Construction vibration is usually measured as vibration velocity (Peak Particle Velocity in mm/s) using an accelerometer or geophone. Vibration Dose Value is a metric used to accumulate vibration energy over a day or night time period to determine its impact on human comfort.
People and other receiver types (that is, animals or environments) are often sensitive to vibration. They may be able to detect vibration at levels well below the amount that causes building damage.
There is evidence that workers who use vibrating plant and are exposed to noise at the same time are more likely to suffer hearing loss than workers exposed to the same level of noise alone. Exposure to both vibration and noise is also understood to increase musculoskeletal problems.
Employers should consider measures to eliminate or minimise exposure to whole-body:
Consider if hazards from using vibrating plant can be completely removed from the workplace, for example by introducing remotely controlled mobile plant rather than plant driven by workers.
For noise exposure, Airsafe recommends that the internal construction noise levels should be based on the ‘maximum’ internal levels presented in the NSW Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 Part 4.1.
The vibration dose values recommended in Assessing Vibration: a technical guideline (DEC, 2006) (derived from British Standard 6472) should be followed when completing vibration monitoring.
Here are some general guidelines for minimising issues with noise and vibration during construction:
Evaluating problems arising from noise and vibration requires a qualified professional, such as one of Airsafe’s occupational hygienists, to perform accurate measurements and analyse the results.
Airsafe measures sound levels using a sound level meter or a noise dosimeter that complies with Australian Standards. We ensure worksites comply with all state and local regulations. And we give you reliable advice on mitigating any possible health risks to your people.
To talk about a noise or vibration issue, call Airsafe on (02) 9555 9034.
New South Wales has introduced changes to exposure standards that affect companies and workers in the mining industry. As of 1 February 2021, the exposure standard for coal dust in mines has been reduced, while an exposure standard for diesel particulate matter has been introduced for the first time.
The updated exposure standards are:
NSW is the first jurisdiction in Australia to implement a standard for diesel emissions in the mining sector. This has come about because of an increased risk of exposure to accumulated exhaust in underground mines.
Coal miners are at risk for respiratory diseases caused by dust from mines. When inhaled, coal dust remains in the lungs. Long-term exposure can cause coal mine dust lung disease (also known as black lung disease). Miners with combined exposures to coal and crystalline silica dust can also get mixed dust pneumoconiosis.
These diseases cannot be cured, so prevention is critical.
There is growing awareness of the risks of exposure to diesel exhaust in the mining industry.
Diesel exhaust emissions contain a complex mixture of gases, vapours, aerosols and particulate matter. Most mines use diesel engines in some form. Underground miners are exposed to concentrations of diesel particulate matter significantly higher than those in any other occupation.
All mines should have a documented strategy to control diesel emissions, to minimise people’s exposure as much as possible. This forms part of your obligations under
the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation 2014.
You should do a risk assessment to help you identify and control areas and tasks where workers may be exposed to diesel exhaust. Start with a risk assessment:
As part of the risk assessment process, you should consider workplace practices, training and culture:
Some practical steps you can take to minimise diesel emissions include:
Air monitoring is a particularly important measure in controlling the risk of diesel particulate exposure. It’s one of your obligations under clause 50 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.
How often to conduct monitoring, and what methods to use, depend on the risk. You should especially consider:
Air monitoring samples must be collected in accordance with Australian Standard sampling methodologies under the direction of a suitably competent Occupational Hygienist independent to the mine, with subsequent analysis undertaken by a NATA accredited laboratory using the NIOSH Method 5040.
As experts in air quality monitoring, Airsafe knows how to conduct an effective air monitoring program, beginning with placement of equipment, which is critical to the overall sampling strategy and interpretation of results. We use two different air monitoring methods:
All mines, quarries and petroleum sites are required to develop and implement a health control plan. A health control plan sets out how the operator will manage the risks to health associated with their mining or petroleum operations, as required by clause 26 of the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation.
Airsafe has many years of experience creating health control plans. We can help you make sure this important document is legally compliant.
Monitoring of a worker’s health is legally required when the hazard has the potential to exceed exposure limits, or when the level of risk from the hazard varies. Airsafe can guide you about the appropriate ongoing air monitoring and analysis program and help you to implement it.
Where possible, you should always try to remove or eliminate hazards from the workplace, for example by using a different process, or changing the way a job is done.
Airsafe will help you determine the right corrective actions to control generation of and limit worker exposure to dust, so far as reasonably practicable.
Mould inside a building can cause serious health problems, especially the toxic variety known as black mould. At Airsafe, we recently had a client who unfortunately left long-term mould issues untreated, resulting in a very serious illness.
If you suspect you have mould in your home or workplace, get Airsafe involved, sooner rather than later.
Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mould or toxic black mould, is a type of mould often found in damp or water-damaged buildings.
To grow, black mould needs very high moisture levels. These can be the result of flooding, leaking roofs, plumbing issues, or poor building maintenance. Black mould typically grows in materials like timber, plasterboard, wood framing, composite wood flooring, carpets, and carpet underlay.
The best way to identify black mould is by its smell and colour. Black mould has a mildewy or musty smell. True to its name, it’s distinctively black, whereas other mould species that grow in the house may be pink, grey, white or brown.
A number of symptoms can come from exposure to black mould, including:
Exposure to black mould may also cause heightened sensitivity, depending on the time and nature of exposure.
Black mould spores and associated toxins mainly cause harm via inhalation, ingestion, and contact. They can be spread through air, food, bedding or water, especially flood water.
The biggest health risks come from unusually high quantities and prolonged exposure. The condition known as sick building syndrome is often associated with black mould exposure.
A recent example from Airsafe’s work shows what can happen if mould is left to grow.
One of our senior occupational hygienists inspected a house in Sydney’s affluent eastern suburbs to investigate a serious mould issue.
An unfixable broken water pipe under the house was causing high levels of moisture around the walls and floor surfaces. This was providing fertile ground for mould to grow, even though no water leaks were ever identified inside the house.
An occupant of the house had been experiencing allergies and skin conditions She eventually had to leave the house, and sadly has now been diagnosed with aspergillosis, a terminal illness associated with the mould in her house.
Toxic mould can be invisible and airborne. If anyone in your household or workplace suffers from asthma, a compromised immune system, breathing difficulties, or allergies, they are at risk of serious or fatal health problems if they are exposed to black mould over time.
If you have any concerns about mould, the first step is to engage Airsafe for an assessment.
We begin with an inspection of the indoor environment. We survey the area for odours indicating mould or bacterial growth, moisture sources such as stagnant water or leaking pipes, and water-damaged building materials.
Air sampling is the most common way in which we assess mould levels, as it’s considered the most reliable way of assessing respiratory exposure to mould.
We sample both indoor and outdoor air comparing mould spore concentrations. If the indoor concentration is higher, or the mould is of different species, this can indicate an indoor hazard.
Where we suspect mould on a specific indoor surface, we conduct surface sampling. Surface sampling can also be used to identify the source of mould exposure.
Once we’ve identified a mould problem, we set about solving it.
Items that are beyond repair will require disposal. These might include porous items like mattresses, pillows, timber or plasterboard which may have absorbed quantities of mould and contaminated water.
Once the source of contamination has been found and stopped, drying will be required. This is important to prevent the mould from spreading more throughout the building. While drying is completed, it’s important avoid disturbing the mould spores and dust, which might cause them to re-enter the air inside the building.
With all the surfaces dried out, remaining items within the building will need cleaning with a damp wipe or A HEPA vacuum.
If mould spores have gotten into the air ducts and vents, they can circulate around the building inadvertently, so these areas need to be thoroughly cleaned as well.
Once all these actions have been taken, we complete a visual inspection and repeat air or surface sampling as required. New samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis before a clearance certificate is issued.