The devastating bushfires around Australia are not only significantly impacting communities across the country, but should be an important reminder to employers about maintaining safe working environments with regards to air quality.
For weeks on end, major Australian cities have recorded unhealthy to hazardous air quality ratings, meaning that all reasonable precautions should be taken to protect employees against the dangers, in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.
If staff are working outdoors, employers should take the following steps to ensure WHS obligations are met, and workers remain as safe as possible:
- Reschedule work where possible until air quality improves for safer working outdoors
- People who are sensitive to smoke or suffer from a heart or lung condition should cease work and stay indoors until air quality has improved
- Conduct appropriate risk assessments prior to commencement of work
- Provide all appropriate personal protective equipment including P2 face masks and ensure employees are briefed on how to use equipment correctly
- Ensure any employees working alone or remotely have an effective means of communication and regularly check in with them
- Encourage employees to report any concerns about individual needs and seek medical advice where required
- Employers should regularly check the bushfire and air quality status near work areas, and advise workers of regular updates
- Encourage employees to take regular breaks, inside where possible, stay hydrated and work shorter hours if workload permits
- Always follow instructions and advice from emergency services and authority officials
Understandably it may be unrealistic to cease work completely when the bushfire crisis is ongoing, however health and safety of employees and others needs to be a priority for all employers. At the end of the day, the best way to reduce exposure to air pollution is to stay indoors where possible, in filtered air conditioning, with doors and windows shut.
For further information and advice:
- Red Cross: Disaster relief
- National: DSS Emergency Relief
- VIC: Vic Emergency
- NSW: NSW Office of Emergency Management
- SA: DHS Disaster Recovery
- QLD: Disasters and emergencies
- WA: Emergency WA
- ACT: Community Recovery
- NT: Recover from an emergency
- TAS: Recovery from an emergency