The Workplace Exposure Standards (WES) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEI) are intended to be used as guidelines for people qualified in occupational health practice.
Edition 12-1 effective from November 2020.
Important things to note about our special guide
The WES and BEIs in our special guide are guidance values – not prescribed exposure standards. The intention is for them to be used as risk criteria for health risk assessment and risk management purposes and to be applied or interpreted only by people with appropriate training and experience.
The values we proposed are considered to be health-based WES. This means they are based on minimising health risk and don't take into consideration practicability of achieving or measuring the value. This means that in some instances the current analytical or sampling methods won't be sensitive enough to allow measurement at a level sufficiently below the WES to assess risk with a high degree of confidence. This means there will be some uncertainty as to whether risk is suitably managed. As with any risk assessment, it needs to consider the uncertainties inherent in the assessment and those uncertainties need to be minimised and managed through good sampling strategy and control.
We consider it critical to set health-based values as risk criteria, so that risk assessment is based on an actual understanding of health risk. Efforts need to be directed to the adequacy of controls rather than merely measuring a level of exposure.
You may know about WES and BEI or heard other people talk about them – here is a brief explanation of what they are and why they are so important.
Workplace exposure standards (WES) are values that refer to the airborne concentration of substances at which it is believed that nearly all workers can be repeatedly exposed day after day without coming to harm.
A prescribed exposure standard (PES) means a workplace exposure standard or a biological exposure index that has the purpose of protecting persons in a workplace from harm to health and that is prescribed in—
- regulations; or
- a safe work instrument; or
- a control under section 77 or 77A, or an exposure limit under section 77B, of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996; or
- a group standard approval issued under section 96B of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.
Currently there are no WES prescribed in regulation, no Safe Work Instrument for WES/BEI, and no WES set in current Group Standards. There are some PES set via Sections 77, 77A or 77B of the HSNO Act 1996 including methyl bromide and 1080. The WES and BEI values discussed in this consultation and all other WES in the WorkSafe WES/BEI book (except methyl bromide and 1080) are not PES and are therefore guideline values. They are intended to be used by people with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to apply them for health risk assessment.
A robust sampling strategy is critical when applying WES to ensure a good understanding of exposure variations which always occur. Exposure levels are commonly variable even in work that is regular and consistent. Variation in worker exposure arises from variation in work activities, control methods and environmental conditions. Due to this variation, exposure measured on a single day may not reflect exposure on other days. Multiple samples generally allow for better understanding of the variation in exposure, and thus provide more detailed information for the risk assessment. However, even samples from multiple days may not reflect the true variation in exposure that may occur over the long term. With this in mind, the PCBU should take advice from a competent person on how exposure should be monitored in the workplace, including the sampling strategy. The sampling strategy must be designed to provide sufficient measurements to reflect the risk to the worker from the variation in exposure.
BEI (Biological Exposure Indices) are guidance values for assessing biological monitoring results. Biological monitoring measures the concentration of a substance – or its breakdown products - in blood or urine or even exhaled air and the monitoring result is compared to the BEI established for the specific substance.
For substances that can be readily absorbed through skin as well as inhaled, biological monitoring may be the preferred exposure monitoring tool, as measuring air levels alone may not fully represent exposure. However, options on biological monitoring are limited as there are few biological exposure indices, compared to exposure standards for airborne monitoring.
Biological and airborne exposure monitoring should not be confused with health monitoring. Exposure monitoring means the measurement and evaluation of exposure to a health hazard experienced by a person; and includes monitoring of the conditions at the workplace, and biological monitoring of the people. Health monitoring, in relation to an individual, means monitoring of the individual to identify any changes in his or her health status because of exposure to certain health hazards.
Health risk management must consider a number of aspects from identification, to assessment, to control, with exposure monitoring being just one part – not the only part that needs to be considered.
PCBUs must minimise exposure and monitor the conditions of the workplace if the exposure cannot be eliminated. WES and BEI are important tools for monitoring worker exposures.
While PCBUs must understand and manage the risks of hazardous or toxic substances at work, we do not recommend untrained people use WES to determine compliance. WES are guidance for qualified occupational health practitioners.