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AIOH: Helping quarries optimise worker health

AIOH

Jeremy Trotman, president-elect of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH)and certified occupational hygienist, explains how hygienists are supporting the quarry industry.

What role do hygienists play at a quarry?

Occupational hygienists (OH) are experts in hazard identification and measuring, assessing and controlling health risks associated with airborne contaminants, a known health risk in quarries.

Respirable crystalline silica tops the list of significant hazards with an exposure standard of 50 millionths of a gram per cubic metre of air and the subject of specific regulation and increased WorkSafe attention.

But let us not forget that excessive exposure to other dusts can present a health risk and there are situations in quarries where exposure to dusts of no specific toxicity may exceed acceptable levels.

Dusts are in the news but OH are also equipped to assess fumes (e.g. welding), vapours (e.g. organic solvents, fuels, etc) and physical hazards such as noise and vibration, all of which may be relevant to quarries.

How does the AIOH support the industry?

The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) is the peak body for the professionals who measure airborne contaminants to assess compliance with workplace exposure standards (WES).

Our members are the technical experts and practitioners who go into workplaces taking air samples, advising on how to interpret WES and recommending to businesses if they need to take additional steps to comply with them.

AIOH sets strict ethical standards for and certification of members. This is of particular interest to employers who need to be sure that the people they employ are competent, do not work outside their expertise, maintain confidential health and other information, are committed to a scientific approach to risk management and can be sanctioned by the professional association should they act unprofessionally.

Has the role changed over time? What did it previously look like?

Speaking for myself here, as an older hygienist there are some things that have not changed: OH have always been interested in the science of and value in prevention of health risks and worker health generally. The equipment has improved exponentially but the application and principles remain essentially the same.

I think OH has always attracted people who want to improve things. Let’s face it no-one in the early days was in it for the money and I don’t see that now. What has changed dramatically is our public profile, distribution, and services.

Our profile I think has had a huge boost due to immediate past Presidents Tracey Bence, Kate Cole and all the other energetic councillors and committee members. In the 70s and 80s our membership was almost totally from large corporations.

Now we are spread across almost all industry sectors and our membership includes many consultants servicing an increasing demand in the SME sector.

New areas have emerged such as mould and indoor air quality, requiring different assessment techniques and equipment, which were not front of mind for OH working in industry with atmospheric contaminants and noise.

How can the quarrying industry make the most out of your profession’s skillset?

We are at the heart of the worker health pillar of ESG, the profession that can assist quarries with WHS/OHS compliance and more importantly, protecting the health of their workers.

How important is it for safety on site?

OH are an essential part of occupational safety and is increasingly gaining traction with the understanding that preventing longer term, chronic disease like asbestosis, silicosis and occupational cancers deserves the same attention as the acute trauma associated with safety incidents.

What kinds of hazards can you help eliminate on site?

Occupational hygienists are trained to recognise, measure, assess and control chemical (e.g. fumes, gases, mists, dusts), physical (e.g. noise and radiation) and biological (e.g. mould) hazards.

Is there a push to incorporate hygienists into more operations? If so, why?

We are definitely seeing OH in more operations, traditionally associated with the laboratory or another technical service group, happily we now see OH in upstream operations such as design, project management (particularly construction involving identification, assessment and safe removal of asbestos materials) even commercial transactions such as due diligence for large commercial purchases.

How has technological development affected your work?

This is an important issue right now with the authorities projecting reduced exposure standards for crystalline silica and other airborne contaminants pushing sampling and analytical technological limits and AIOH members, who will be measuring these ever-decreasing levels, discussing and debating how we should respond.

Generally, advances in equipment and analytical precision and logging capabilities have made our job easier and our measurement results more precise, representative and predictive of long-term worker exposures which can focus control action on best worker health result from available resources.

What plans do the AIOH have for 2024?

Enhancing the profile of OH is one of four pillars of our strategic plan setting our course for 2024 and beyond.

The other four are increasing our advocacy and influence on behalf of our members and prevention of occupational disease, continuing to improve our professionalism, raising the standards for what worker health should look like and operational excellence of our organisation. •

For more information, vist aioh.org.au

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