Bushfire smoke and WHS obligations

Bushfire smoke and WHS obligations

SafeWork NSW had released advice for workers and PCBUs affected by the bushfire smoke spreading across large parts of the state. The advice is relative to those affected by smoke and related poor air conditions, not those who are directly involved in the firefighting effort.

Workers who are not directly involved in firefighting activities may be exposed to smoke while working indoors or outdoors during periods of significant bushfire activity.

SafeWork NSW has explained that while it is impossible to control the movement of bushfire smoke, PCBUs can control where, how and when their workers undertake duties.

Businesses and other PCBUs have obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2017 to ensure they provide and maintain a safe working environment for workers in so as far as is reasonably practicable.

Indoor working environments

Ensure indoor environments are safe and without risks to health for workers during periods of elevated smoke.

A PCBU must:

  • work with your property management (such as building landlords) to monitor the air quality of their buildings or workplaces
  • act if the air quality is not within the acceptable levels
  • keep staff informed of the measures taken
  • have provisions within your emergency plan that outline what you will do if indoor bushfire smoke becomes excessive

Outdoor working environments

Ensure that outdoor or fieldwork is rescheduled, if possible, until conditions (e.g. visibility and air quality) improve.

If work needs to go ahead you should:

  • take appropriate risk assessments prior to work commencing.
  • provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, to workers with instructions on its correct use and fitting.
  • ensure workers always have an effective means of communication if working alone, remotely or in an isolated place.
  • remain aware of any bushfires near the proposed work area(s) and advise workers accordingly, including to follow instructions and advice from emergency services and evacuate the area if needed.
  • monitor outdoor air quality levels via Air Quality Alerts NSW
  • access health information on bushfire smoke via NSW Health.

Important health advice

Businesses and other PCBUs should also advise workers that if they have concerns about their health, they should seek medical advice from their doctor.

Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek urgent medical attention.

People who are sensitive to smoke and air pollution can be more vulnerable to heat-related illness as well, so staying hydrated and cool is important.

Worker advice

As a worker, you have obligations under WHS legislation. You should raise your concerns about bushfire smoke with your manager or WHS representative as soon as possible.

 

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