Reduction of Workplace Exposure Standards for Silica and Coal Dust

Australian Ministers recently agreed to reduce the workplace exposure standards (WES) for respirable coal dust and respirable crystalline silica to the levels that were proposed by Safe Work Australia (SWA) earlier in 2019.

Background on the WES Review

In 2018, SWA developed and documented a methodology to review the existing list from 1995 of adopted national exposure standards for atmospheric contaminants. The SWA review of more than 700 atmospheric contaminants commenced in late 2018 and the project is expected to be completed in mid-2020.

A summary of the process is as follows:

  1. An external provider reviews each atmospheric contaminant as per the SWA methodology and proposes to either retain the existing WES or adopt another international WES.
  2. SWA reviews each WES and accepts/modifies/declines the proposed WES.
  3. SWA publishes the proposed WES and invites public comment.
  4. SWA Members, a tripartite group, review each proposed WES and vote.
  5. Once the vote is successful, SWA request comment from the relevant Ministers across Australia.
  6. SWA review comments from the Ministers. If successful, planning to execute the change to the exposure standards then commences

It is anticipated that the 700+ WESs will be updated and released in the second half of 2020. As requested by Ministers, some WESs may be released early.

SWA has not yet confirmed if transitional arrangements will be in place before the wider list of revised WESs will come into effect.

New Workplace Exposure Standard for Crystalline Silica

Safe Work Australia (SWA) have ratified a new exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica to be reduced by 50% to 0.05 mg/m3, lowered from 0.1 mg/m3.

SWA issued the revised exposure standard on the 16th December 2019. Refer this recent update from SWA for additional details.

This means that the new exposure standards are in effect. Some exceptions apply in States and Territories where exposure standard values have been specified within their Legislation.

Please note: a scientific review is underway regarding the potential to move the RCS exposure standard to a figure of 0.02 mg/m3, as proposed by SWA.

New Workplace Exposure Standard for Coal Dust

For Coal Dust (Containing < 5 % Quartz), SWA has decided to condense the originally recommended two separate exposure standards. A single exposure standard for Respirable Coal Dust (RCD) has been ratified to be at 1.5 mg/m3, lowered from 3 mg/m3. Refer this recent update from SWA for additional details.

The new exposure standard for RCD will come into effect by SWA on the 1st of October 2022 after a 3-year transition period.

GCG recognise that both Queensland and New South Wales Coal Mining Legislations currently specify 2.5 mg/m3 within the Regulations. At their discretion, each state regulator may elect to adopt the revised value earlier.

Things for Businesses to Consider

For a business that may have significant risk for RCS and RCD, you may want to consider developing and documenting an action plan for how your organisation plans to comply with the revised exposure standards.

The action plan should include but not be limited to:

  • Reviewing any safety & health management system documents and update exposure standard values in line with the impending changes.
  • Reviewing any existing exposure monitoring data and/or risk assessment, given the new reduction in exposure standards, to see which similar exposure groups are at risk of non-compliance.
  • If operating in States or Territories where a transitional period applies, consider internally adopting the revised exposure standards.
  • Reviewing the effectiveness of controls to ensure compliance with legislated exposure standards.

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