How to protect your workers against smokey conditions

Posted by Alloc8, Fri, Jan 17, 2020


The bushfires that have ravaged across Australia have produced an unprecedented amount of smoke, not only impacting fire-ravaged areas but also sparking hazardous air conditions across Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. 

Bushfire smoke is considered a particular health concern for people aged under 14 or over 65, and anyone with a heart or lung condition. However, when there is a hazardous air quality rating, the health effects can be felt by almost everyone, most notably producing shortness of breath and increased coughing. 

Melbourne recorded the worst air pollution in the world this week, as cooler temperatures brought the smoke closer to the ground, temporarily closing beaches, pools, and putting construction sites on hold. 

While the air quality has since improved, the Australian bushfire season is far from over, and your business should have measures in place to protect your workers from exposure to bushfire smoke. 

SafeWork Australia states that these measures should include:

  • working indoors (where possible)
  • rescheduling outdoor work until conditions (e.g. visibility and air quality) improve​
  • ensuring plant is functioning correctly and has not been affected by dust or debris
  • cleaning any dust and debris off outdoor surfaces, and
  • providing personal protective equipment such as eye protection and correctly fitted, P2 rated face masks.

Safe Work Australia also says employees have a right to stop working if they believe their workplace is unsafe because of the smoke. Unions across Australia are also urging workers to stay indoors if they believe their workplace poses a risk - this particularly applies to anyone working outdoors including construction workers, and traffic management workers. 

Unions ACT Secretary Alex White is also campaigning for mandatory bushfire pay for anyone not able to work due to bushfires.

Additionally,  each jurisdiction in Australia also has its own set of guidelines to keep workers protected from bushfire smoke. Read the latest update for your state below to find out more:

New South Wales
Australian Capital Territory
South Australia
Northern Territory
Western Australia

By implementing the recommended measures and continuing to check the air quality rating for your area, you can minimise the health risks posed to your workers by the ongoing bushfire season. 

Topics: workplace safety, health and safety

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