Employers should not force workers to work in hazardous smoke

UnionsACT today calls on employers to not force workers to work in the hazardous smoke.

Over the holiday period, UnionsACT has been contacted by numerous workers expressing concern that they have been forced to work in the smoke without protective equipment such as P2 dust masks.

The bushfire smoke that has blanketed Canberra is a serious health hazard. There is no safe exposure level for air pollution like bushfire smoke.

Health authorities in the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland have already issued health alerts, warning of ultra-fine particulate matter (PM) in the smoke that can penetrate deep into the lungs.

An Air Quality Index rating above 150 is unhealthy, and above 300 is very hazardous. The Air Quality Index rating for Canberra today is over 1050.

The current bushfire smoke haze is a serious and immediate hazard to workers’ health and safety.

Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment to their employees. This includes volunteers, contractors and subcontractors, labour hire workers, and apprentices.


Workers have a legal right to refuse to undertake work if they believe that it poses a serious risk to their health or safety. Workers who take steps to keep themselves safe are legally protected from adverse action by employers, such as dismissal.

The following quotes are attributable to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“UnionsACT is deeply concerned at reports that employers in Canberra have been coercing workers to put themselves at risk of serious health impacts.

“The bushfire smoke that has covered Canberra since last year is toxic. There is no safe level of exposure.

“Employers should be aware that they are required by law to provide safe and healthy workplaces for employees.

“We expect Worksafe to enforce the rights of workers to have healthy workplaces.

“If you are a worker and you are concerned about the impacts of bushfire smoke at your work, you should contact your union, or Worksafe if the matter is urgent.”

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