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Safe Work Australia to review safe blood lead levels

blood-leadSafe Work Australia is currently reviewing workplace blood lead removal levels, i.e. the levels at which a worker must be removed from lead risk work, and the associated workplace exposure standard for lead.

Safe Work Australia commissioned a report by ToxConsult Pty Ltd entitled Review of hazards and health effects of inorganic lead – implications for WHS regulatory policy. The report examines the health effects of exposure to lead and based on the analysis, advises on appropriate blood lead removal levels and workplace exposure standard for lead.

The report covers the following areas:

  • documentation and assessment of international regulatory standards including airborne exposure standards, biological exposure standards and blood lead removal levels
  • information on any alternative biomonitoring methods for lead
  • identification and review of key epidemiological and toxicological studies relevant to workplace exposure and the setting of revised blood lead removal levels and workplace exposure standard
  • the relationship between air lead levels and expected blood lead levels
  • advice about the risks to worker health at a range of air lead exposures and the health benefits of lowering blood lead levels, and
  • consideration of sensitive workers and advice as to the protection afforded to them by reduced blood lead removal levels and workplace exposure standard.

The report finds the current blood lead removal levels in the model Work Health and Safety Regulations are not sufficiently protective of the health of workers in lead risk work and that adverse health effects may occur at those levels. The report proposes changes are needed to the blood lead removal levels. The report also proposes lowering the workplace exposure standard for inorganic lead as a consequence because blood lead levels are influenced by air lead levels.

If changes are made to blood lead removal levels and the workplace exposure standard, consequential updates would need to be made to:

  • the three health monitoring guidelines for lead (workers, PCBUs and medical practitioners)
  • the definition of ‘lead risk work’ (which triggers, amongst other things, health monitoring requirements of workers)
  • the return to work levels (blood lead levels above which a worker must not return to lead risk work), and
  • the blood lead levels that trigger changes in the frequency of biological monitoring.

As a next step, the Agency will discuss the proposed options for blood lead removal levels and the workplace exposure standard with businesses that have lead processes.

This report and subsequent business consultation will inform a consultation Regulation Impact Statement on proposed changes to the workplace blood lead removal levels and workplace exposure standard for lead.

Safe Work Australia is interested in your views on the recommendations in the report, including the recommendations on blood lead removal levels and workplace exposure standard for lead.

Please provide any comments to workhealth@swa.gov.au or call 1300 551 832 to discuss.

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