What is health surveillance?
Employers are required to establish a health surveillance system to identify changes in the health of workers.
Risk-based health assessment or biological monitoring is required where a worker may be exposed to hazardous agents, chemicals or other substances that can lead to ill health or disease, such as lead or mercury.
Health surveillance should also ensure that control measures in the workplace are effective and provide an opportunity to reinforce specific preventive measures and safe work practices.
The type of health surveillance required will depend on the hazardous agent or substance to which a person is potentially exposed.
Common examples of health surveillance include:
- occupational and medical history
- health advice
- physical examination
- records of exposure
- respiratory (lung) function tests
- biological monitoring.
The medical practitioner or approved person under whose supervision a health assessment (including any biological monitoring) is carried out may require the worker to undertake additional surveillance.
The medical practitioner should notify the worker of the results of the assessment and explain the results. The employer is to be notified of the outcome of the assessment and advised on the need for remedial action, if any.
The State Mining Engineer may direct that a health assessment be carried out for certain employees and these results be reported back.
More information on the purpose of health surveillance and the types of health surveillance undertaken is available in Hazardous chemicals requiring health monitoring from Safe Work Australia.
When is health surveillance required?
The Mines Safety and Inspection Regulations 1995 require a workplace to undertake risk assessments to determine the consequences of exposure to hazardous agents, chemicals or other substances that may affect the health of workers.
The workplace risk assessment should identify whether:
- there are potential adverse health effects or potential excessive exposure
- workplace monitoring should be conducted
- a health surveillance program should be established
- what needs to be done to eliminate or reduce the risk from hazardous substances.
Examples of where a risk assessment may be required include exploration drilling, particularly where the presence of:
- asbestiform minerals
- radioactive minerals
- toxic elements such as lead, mercury, arsenic and vanadium
is suspected or they have previously been encountered.
Information about how to undertake a workplace risk assessment is available in the Model Code of Practice - How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks published by Safe Work Australia.
Information on hazardous chemicals is available in the model code of practice on Model Code of Practice - Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace published by Safe Work Australia.
Health surveillance program
Health surveillance is required for workers who are exposed to noise or vibration, ionising radiation, solvents, fumes, dusts and other chemicals or substances hazardous to health.
A health surveillance program must use valid and acceptable health surveillance procedures to detect indications of disease or health effects.
The health surveillance program can assist in minimising the risk to health from hazardous substances by:
- confirming that the exposure is below the accepted level
- indicating biological effects requiring cessation or reduction of exposure
- collecting data to evaluate the effects of exposure.
Health surveillance should not be used as an alternative to maintenance of control measures.
Appointed medical practitioners may assist the employer in deciding if health surveillance is needed and setting up appropriate health surveillance programs.
Workers and safety and health representatives, where they exist, must be consulted on safety and health matters, which includes developing health surveillance programs.
The employer is responsible for arranging and paying the expenses for any health assessment or biological monitoring required.
Workers should cooperate with the employer on health and safety matters, including the wearing of protective equipment to minimise exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals, and participate in personal air monitoring and health surveillance programs.
The Mining safety legislation web page (see below) expands on the concept of general duty of care and has supporting guidance material.
What is biological monitoring?
Biological monitoring means testing for the presence of a hazardous chemical or substance, its by-products or a biochemical change in a person’s body (e.g. body tissue, blood, urine, breath).
This determines how much chemical has entered the body following exposure. For example:
- lead is often measured in blood
- mercury can be measured from a urine sample
- cadmium exposure has been tested from hair and fingernails
- alcohol can be detected in exhaled breath.
In the mining industry, the metals arsenic, mercury, lead, thallium and vanadium are either mined or used as a reagent during processing and in the laboratory. Biological monitoring is the most convenient way to determine occupational exposure to these metals.
More detail on biological monitoring techniques and how employers can meet their statutory requirements is contained in Risk-based health surveillance and biological monitoring guideline below.
The State Mining Engineer may direct biological monitoring be carried out in respect of specified employees at a mine and require the results to be provided.
Control of atmospheric contaminants
To minimise exposure to hazardous substances, employers should ensure that levels of atmospheric contaminants at workplaces are controlled by suppression, ventilation, exhaust extraction systems or other means.
Suitable respiratory protective equipment of a standard not less than that specified in Australian Standard AS/NZS 1715 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment may also be required.
Each responsible person at a mine must ensure that samples of atmospheric contaminants are taken, recorded and reported in accordance with departmental requirements.
Further information on how to manage exposure to hazardous chemicals is available in Risk-based hygiene management planning and CONTAM system procedures below.
Australian Standards are available from Standards Australia.
More information about legislative requirements, including the roles and responsibilities of officers and what needs to be reported, is provided in the webpages listed below.