Asbestos: Health surveillance - Guide for employers
Inhalation of respirable asbestos fibres may cause diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Risk factors include the dose (number of fibres inhaled), lifetime exposure, fibre type, smoking status and genetics. If the health of a person is at risk as a result of exposure to asbestos at work, the employer must ensure that health surveillance is carried out in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Regulations 1996.
What is health surveillance?
Health surveillance is monitoring a person to identify changes in their health resulting from exposure to a hazardous substance.
Why should health surveillance be conducted?
Health surveillance may detect harm to health at an earlier stage, allowing controls to be improved to protect workers’ health or earlier medical treatment.
What regulations apply to health surveillance?
If the health of a person is at risk as a result of exposure to asbestos at work, the employer must ensure that health surveillance is carried out in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Regulations 1996. Regulation 5.1 defines ‘health surveillance’ and regulation 5.23 requires an employer, main contractor or self-employed person to provide health surveillance to a worker in relation to hazardous substances.
What activities may present a health risk?
Activities that may present a health risk due to asbestos exposure, and where health surveillance should be carried out, include:
- Removal or handling of friable asbestos materials (‘friable’ means the asbestos containing material is in a powder form, or can be crumbled by hand pressure);
- Handling asbestos using unsafe practices (eg cutting with power tools - note that this is not permitted under OSH legislation); or
- Activities where asbestos exposure is at or above the asbestos exposure standard (8 hour time weighted average of 0.1 fibres/mL)
Please note that excessive exposure to asbestos must be reported to WorkSafe (OSH Regulation 5.40) and exposed people must be informed (OSH Regulation 5.41).
All air has a very low background level of asbestos. Low risk activities such as working in asbestos cement buildings, or maintaining such buildings using safe work methods, do not require health surveillance.
Who can provide health surveillance?
Health surveillance must be conducted by an Appointed Medical Practitioner (AMP), a doctor with adequate training and experience in relation to asbestos and who has been appointed by the employer after consultation with the worker/s. WorkSafe has a list of doctors who conduct health surveillance work, although not all such doctors are listed.
If the doctor you choose has not conducted health surveillance for asbestos previously, it is essential for them to contact WorkSafe’s occupational physician on 1300 307 877 to ensure they are aware of their duties under OSH legislation.
Should there be any indications of adverse health effects from asbestos exposure, the AMP can refer the person to a respiratory physician for an assessment.
How often should health surveillance for asbestos be conducted?
Following the baseline assessment, the frequency of health surveillance is based on medical advice and depends on the individual’s risk profile.
What further information is available?
Asbestos health surveillance reporting form (for the AMP to report results to WorkSafe):
Safe Work Australia guidance on health surveillance (also called “health monitoring”):
- Health monitoring for persons conducting a business or undertaking guide
- Health monitoring when you work with hazardous chemicals guide
- Health monitoring for registered medical practitioners guide
- Hazardous Chemicals Requiring Health Monitoring
WorkSafe guidance on asbestos safety:
- National code of practice for the management and control of asbestos in workplaces [NOHSC:2018 (2005)]
- National code of practice for the safe removal of asbestos 2nd edition [NOHSC:2002(2005)]
- Asbestos in the workplace
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