Workplace change “may be required” to prevent the poisoning of workers who are exposed to hazardous chemicals, a study has found.
Key points:The study found that more than 3,000 people in Australia’s major cities were exposed to workplace contamination from hazardous chemicals including lead, mercury, cadmium, cadmic and trichloroetheneThe researchers also found that the health consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals were likely to be significant.
Key findingsThe study looked at the health risks of exposures to hazardous substances in workplaces across Australia, and the potential for health outcomes.
The researchers found that nearly 1,000 workers had occupational exposure to hazardous chemical substances, with 3,079 workers experiencing adverse health outcomes compared to 1,073 people who did not.
“It is clear that occupational exposure is a potential source of exposure for many people, and we do not have data on the health outcomes of exposure,” the study’s lead author Professor John Wray said.
“However, because the study looked specifically at exposures in workplaces, we are confident that the potential health consequences associated with occupational exposure are likely to represent significant risk.”
Dr Wray and his co-author Professor Tim Higginson, who conducted the study while he was a research associate at the University of Western Australia’s School of Public Health, said the findings showed workplace change was needed.
“We need to be thinking about how to ensure we have safe workplaces that work with the current state of knowledge about the health effects of exposure in workplaces,” Dr Wray told ABC News.
“The results from this study suggest there is a need for a more systematic approach to managing exposure at workplaces.”
The study also found exposure to industrial chemicals was likely to have serious health consequences, including increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer and diabetes.
The findings are based on data from an analysis of data from more than 400 workplaces across four Australian states.
The analysis, which used data from the NSW Health Department, looked at data from workplaces in the state from 1991 to 2009, as well as data from other Australian states and territories.
The data shows workers in NSW were exposed at a rate of about 1,200 workers per day, but the researchers were not able to examine the health implications of those exposures.
“Because exposures are difficult to track across a state, it is difficult to identify trends in exposure levels,” Dr Higgison said.
However, they found the rate of exposure was still elevated, with a total of 3,081 exposures in NSW in 1991-2009.
“There is a significant increase in the number of exposures in recent years, but it is also true that this increase is still relatively low compared to the national average,” Dr Jepson said.
The results are a surprise to the NSW Government.
“This report raises important issues of safety for workers and the public in NSW, and is important to consider,” the Premier’s office said in a statement.
“Although our focus in this inquiry is to examine workplace health issues, the Premier has previously called for the introduction of a national standard for workplace health.”
In a statement, the NSW Premier said the report showed a need to act.
“While it is clear from the study that workplace exposures to chemicals can have serious consequences for individuals and the community, the findings of this report do not mean that NSW needs to go down the path of an industrial standard,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.”[The Government] will continue to work with NSW Labor to promote and implement this work, including developing a national regulatory framework.”
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