Employers at Victorian workplaces where lead processes are carried out are urged to follow new lead exposure standards and monitoring requirements that came into effect this month. To coincide with the updated regulations, WorkSafe Victoria has released updated guidance, which replaces the former code of practice. The guidance provides definitions and examples of lead processes and lead-risk work, has information on legal duties for employers and employees regarding risk and control measures, and outlines obligations in relation to health monitoring of workers. It also includes tables to help employees monitor the blood lead levels of workers who undertake lead-risk work.
Lead-risk work is defined as work performed in a lead process that is reasonably likely to cause an employee’s blood lead levels to exceed those specified in the regulations. Victorian workplaces using lead processes are urged to review their procedures and practices to ensure they are complying with the amended regulations. Exposure to lead in the workplace is a health and safety risk that can cause a range of illnesses, such as cancer, kidney damage, nerve and brain damage, paralysis, reduced fertility and birth defects in children.
“The industry has had time to prepare for these changes, so there will be no excuse for employers who are caught ignoring their legal duties and putting their workers at risk of lead poisoning,” said Julie Nielsen, WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director of Health and Safety. The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations 2017 impose legal responsibilities on employers and employees in relation to lead exposure in workplaces where lead processes are carried out, and further obligations when lead-risk work is performed. This includes notifying WorkSafe Victoria that lead-risk work is being undertaken, arranging health monitoring of employees and removing employees from lead-risk work if their blood lead levels reach certain thresholds.
In June 2018, Part 4.3 of the OHS Regulations was amended to include a changed definition of lead-risk work, a lowered airborne lead exposure standard and updated requirements for the frequency of biological monitoring. The changes also included reducing the blood lead level thresholds for removal from, and return to, lead-risk work. These changes may lead to employers having greater legal obligations due to a scheduled process previously being carried out at their workplace now being defined as lead-risk work. The amended regulations commenced on 5 June 2020.
The updated WorkSafe Victoria guidance, titled ‘Lead: a guidebook for workplaces’, is available here.
Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Jamie Hooper