Bushfires and air pollution

Working in air pollution

Check your jurisdiction’s air quality index to determine the air quality where you’re working. If you have an air pollution sensitivity, particularly if combined with an underlying medical condition, you should advise your workplace and follow the advice of your GP or specialist physician.

Dust and smoke may:

  • reduce air quality and impact visibility
  • settle onto equipment and impact the functioning of plant and grip of surfaces, and
  • irritate the airway, nose and eyes.

Your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to health and safety when air quality is reduced, including:

  • 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.

Eliminating exposure to air pollution is the best protection.

Working near bushfires

You should be aware of any bushfires near your work area. Follow instructions and advice from emergency services and ensure you are able to evacuate the area if needed. Remain vigilant and immediately report any smoke or fires that you see. Your workplace must prepare and inform you of the procedures in the event of an emergency.

If you are working alone, ensure you have a means of communication with you at all times (e.g. a mobile phone). If you are working remotely or in an isolated place, your workplace must ensure you can be contacted and receive assistance in an emergency.

Ensure that your work does not increase the risk of starting or intensifying bush fires, particularly if you are working in rural or bushland areas. For example:

  • ensure that any carriers of flammable chemicals and liquids, such as fuel, are properly maintained to minimise the risk of unintentional leakage onto the ground, and
  • ensure you correctly dispose of litter, particularly cigarette butts.

If work becomes unsafe

In some circumstances you have a right to cease or refuse to carry out unsafe work. You have this right if you have a reasonable concern that you would be exposed to a serious risk to your health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. You must inform your workplace as soon as you can that you have ceased work. You must also be available to carry out suitable alternative work.

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) can direct a worker in their work group to cease unsafe work. HSRs can do this if:

  • they have a reasonable concern that a worker would be exposed to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard, and
  • they have already consulted and attempted to resolve the issue with the business or undertaking for whom the workers are carrying out work (unless the risk is so serious and immediate or imminent that it is not reasonable to consult first).​​

HSRs must inform the workplace of any direction that has been given to cease unsafe work. HSRs can only direct that unsafe work cease if they have completed their initial training under the model WHS laws. 

SOURCE:

Safe Work Australia

January 8, 2020

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/media-centre/news/bushfires-and-air-pollution