Occupational hygienists from around the nation (and the globe) will converge on Melbourne from December 4–6 for the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) 40th Annual Scientific Conference and Exhibition. Quarry finds out how occupational hygienists can support the resources industry.
Working on a quarry site carries many risks that must be managed properly to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy.
The risks associated with safety hazards, like working around heavy machinery and working at heights, are often obvious and have immediately consequences. Other hazards may not hurt our workers straight away and may not be visible. Occupational hygiene considers many of these longer-term hazards, including noise, heat, and dust.
Samantha Clarke, an AIOH media ambassador, said the quarrying industry needs to incorporate effective dust controls, to manage worker’s exposure to silica, coal, and metal dusts, at the same level they manage safety risks. This includes the implementation of ventilation systems and respiratory protection to manage worker’s exposures to respiratory hazards.
“Because their impact may take years to result in irreversible health effects, like cancer or noise induced hearing loss, these risks do not tend to demand the attention they deserve,” she told Quarry. “Like safety hazards, occupational hygienists use the hierarchy of controls when advising ways to manage these risks.”
Clarke has been a hygienist for more than 20 years, predominantly working in the aluminium industry. She has decades of experience assisting the resource industry with understanding exposure to asbestos, silica, noise, and mould.
As an occupational hygienist, Clarke has helped quarries and mines understand their exposure risks, often starting with a walkthrough survey to understand the site processes and the controls in place. This includes speaking to workers, as they typically understand their workplaces best, including the problems and possible solutions.
Workplace monitoring can be undertaken to measure what levels of dust or noise workers may be exposed to. This can be compared to workplace exposure standards to understand health risks, to inform an ongoing strategy to prioritise and minimise risks.
“Measurement is important even when exposure levels are low. Respirable crystalline silica, for example, can be hazardous at very low concentrations, so exposure risks may not be obvious” she said.
This data informs the solution options required to manage these risks, including dust collectors, dust suppression, ventilation, and remote monitoring.
“Exposure data can support a business case for large exposure reduction projects. Having a quantitative baseline can also verify the effectiveness of these investments, by demonstrating a reduction in worker exposures,” she said.
However, occupational hygiene also has great potential for the quarrying industry, which is why the AIOH is encouraging quarry operators to attend its annual scientific conference and exhibition on 4 to 6 December in Melbourne.
Clarke said the event’s theme is based around being future ready, and will showcase how the industry is, and will need to continue to be, transformative, innovative, and relevant.
“The event will host speakers from around the world to share advances in health knowledge, monitoring technologies, research, communication, and leadership. We welcome safety professionals, allied health professionals and site operators to gain an insight into our field,” she said.
“It will also feature our biggest ever exhibition, where equipment suppliers, laboratories, consultants, software providers and universities share the latest technologies, tools and services on the market.”
“Our goal is to promote healthy workplaces, by providing opportunities for our members to continuously improve their technical and influencing skills. This enables us to engage with and support industries, including quarrying, to understand and effectively manage their health risks, and ultimately reduce the risk of their worker’s experiencing disabling diseases.” •
AIOH 2023 Annual Scientific Conference & Exhibition, December 4 – 6th, at Melbourne’s Crown Promenade. Register at aioh.org.au.