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Bushfire smoke - your WHS obligations

January 14, 2020

With the current bushfire emergency, workers may be exposed to smoke while performing their duties and as a business, you have obligations to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

As an employer or business you have a duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of your workers. A worker is not just employees but can include contractors, subcontractors (and their employees), volunteers, and employees of labour hire companies. 

While you can’t control the movement of bushfire smoke, you can control where, how and when your workers undertake their duties. It is all about taking a risk assessment approach and assessing the air quality, the type of work and location of work, and the likely effects it may have on the health of a worker.

Some measures a business can put in place during the bushfire emergency and reduction of air quality include:

  • working indoors (where possible),
  • rescheduling outdoor work until conditions (e.g. visibility and air quality) improve,
  • ensuring any plant, machinery, and tools are operating correctly and have not been affected by dust or debris,
  • cleaning any dust and debris off outdoor surfaces, and
  • provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, to workers with instructions on its correct use and fitting.

It is a good idea to monitor the air quality levels where work will be undertaken. This can be checked through the Air Quality Index (AQI) data website which is updated hourly.

Employers should also keep up-to-date information about the health of their workers, especially those workers who have pre-existing conditions that might predispose them to harm from smoke, e.g. asthma or other respiratory disorders. Special steps may need to be taken to protect these more vulnerable workers, taking into account their pre-existing conditions.

For more information on this issue please contact your Workplace Advisor on 1300 650 620.