ASCC Releases National Survey On Exposure To Workplace Hazards

On Dec. 3, the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) released the National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) survey – 2008 Results, the first national survey on exposure to occupational disease hazards in Australia.

“The NHEWS data will provide information on the current nature and extent of Australian workers’ exposure to selected occupational disease causing hazards as well as the controls used to manage these,” said ASCC Chairman Bill Scales. “This will help the ASCC and others decide priorities for prevention and measure the success of these programs to help reduce the hazards to which Australian workers are exposed at work. Over time, these programs will reduce the health and economic burden of occupational diseases to Australian workers, their families, the community and business.”

According to Scales, the NHEWS survey shows that most Australian workers exposed to disease hazards were provided with a form of control to reduce that risk, findings that Scales found “very encouraging.”

Scales also noted, however, that some workers exposed to hazards reported that no risk controls were provided at all. For example, approximately one in every five workers reported their employers did nothing to prevent health problems caused by exposure to direct sunlight or exposure to loud noises.

“This is not acceptable. It is everybody’s right to be safe and healthy at work and all employers need to review their approach to these important issues,” Scales said.

A sample of 1900 workers were surveyed for the first part of the study, which targeted workers from the five priority industries as identified under the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012: transport and storage; health and community services; construction; manufacturing; and agriculture, forestry and fishing. A second sample of 2600 workers was drawn from both priority and non-priority industries.

Key findings include:

  • Most of the 1538 respondents who worked in direct sunlight were provided with sunscreen, hats or protective clothing. One in five who worked in direct sunlight undertook their work outside of peak UV hours to reduce sun exposure. Close to 17 percent of workers reported that they or their employer did nothing to prevent health problems caused by exposure to direct sunlight or sunburn
  • Of the 1437 respondents who worked with loud noise, around two-thirds were provided with ear plugs or ear muffs to prevent hearing from being damaged. One in five said noisy equipment was placed in an isolated room, while 36 per cent said quieter machinery was purchased whenever possible. Seventeen percent reported they or their employer had done nothing to prevent hearing from being damaged by loud noise
  • Two-thirds of the 1348 respondents who worked with tools, equipment or in vehicles that vibrate were provided with gloves to prevent any related health problems. A third of respondents said they had been provided with vibration absorbing seats and 31 percent said they were provided with products with less vibration. Twenty-two percent reported that they or their employer had done nothing to prevent problems caused by working with vibrating tools and equipment or in vehicles that vibrate.
The NHEW survey was produced in collaboration with state and territory WorkSafe and WorkCover authorities and a panel of research experts. The survey and accompanying handbook are available for free download from the ASCC website at http://ascc.gov.au.
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