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Airborne Contaminants - The Effects on Workers Health

Thursday 3 November, 2016 10:46

Did you know; WorkSafe NZ has launched a campaign to raise awareness of risks from welding fumes, wood dust and carbon monoxide in the manufacturing and construction sectors. The programme, which forms part of the Healthy Work strategic plan for work-related health, broadens WorkSafe’s focus on workplace airborne contaminants which initially started with silica and organic solvents.

Every year, an estimated:

  • 600-900 people die in New Zealand from work-related health issues; and a further
  • 5,000-6,000 are hospitalised with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic illnesses from workplace exposure to airborne contaminants.

There are multiple diseases associated with wood dust and welding fumes, including cancers, asthma and chronic lung conditions, also carbon monoxide can be a potentially deadly poisonous gas.

The health effects of exposure to these contaminants may not be visible for days, weeks, months or even decades.

Workers in the construction sector are 20 times more likely to die of exposure to harmful airborne substances than from a workplace incident, and that rises to 25 times more likely for manufacturing workers.

During 2015 and 2016, WorkSafe NZ did nearly 1,000 proactive inspections focused on welding fumes and wood dust. In 150 of these, inspectors found risks weren’t being managed and enforcement action was required. They are committed to continue to educate and support employers and workers to recognise and manage these risks, and will take enforcement action where necessary to protect workers’ health.

Employers have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA), not just to keep workers safe, but healthy too. Workplace health received an increased emphasis under the HSWA  and consequentially we are seeing Worksafe NZ place a greater focus on identifying the hazards which create these health risks.

Looking after workers’ health also has significant productivity benefits for businesses. Research has shown that one in 10 lost working days in New Zealand is due to ill health caused by work.


Have you considered the airborne contaminants in your workplace?  If not, now would be a good time to start. 

Alternatively; have you previously taken steps to identify these hazards and mitigate the associated risks?  Then now may be a good time to review these hazards and the steps to mitigate the risks which you have taken.