SafeWork NSW provides advice on smoky workplaces

Tuesday, 28 January, 2020

SafeWork NSW provides advice on smoky workplaces

Persons conducting business and undertaking (PCBUs) have obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2017 to provide and maintain a safe working environment for workers, so far as is reasonably practicable. PCBUs may have staff affected by smoke caused by the current bushfire emergency while working indoors or outdoors, particularly during periods of significant bushfire activity. While PCBUs cannot control the movement of bushfire smoke, they can control where, how and when workers undertake their duties.

PCBUs are responsible for ensuring that indoor working environments are safe and without risks to health for workers during periods of elevated smoke. PCBUs overseeing indoor working environments should work with property management (such as building landlords) to monitor the air quality of buildings or workplaces, and act if the air quality is not within acceptable levels. PCBUs must also inform staff of any measures taken to maintain or improve air quality, and have provisions within emergency plans that outline what to do if indoor bushfire smoke becomes excessive.

PCBUs overseeing outdoor working environments should ensure that outdoor work or field work is rescheduled until conditions (such as visibility and air quality) improve. If work must go ahead, PCBUs must monitor outdoor air quality levels via Air Quality Alerts NSW and carry out appropriate risk assessments prior to work commencing. Further health information on bushfire smoke can also be accessed via NSW Health. PCBUs must also provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, to workers with instructions on its correct use and fitting. Workers must always have an effective means of communication if working alone, remotely or in an isolated place. PCBUs must also remain aware of any bushfires near the proposed work area(s), advising workers to follow instructions and advice from emergency services, and evacuating the area if needed.

PCBUs must advise workers to seek medical advice from their doctor if they have concerns about their health. Workers experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should also be advised to seek urgent medical attention. PCBUs must ensure that workers stay hydrated and cool, particularly those who are sensitive to smoke and air pollution, as they can be more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

Workers also have obligations under WHS legislation, and are encouraged to raise concerns about bushfire smoke with PCBUs or relevant WHS representatives as soon as possible. Workers not satisfied with the response should contact SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50 or the Speak Up platform.

Image credit: © Ryan

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