WHS ALERT: Smoke and Extreme Heat Are Dangerous Combo

UnionsACT has today issued a WHS Alert about the serious risks to workers health of the combination of the heat-wave and smoke.

The air quality index in Canberra is over 150 at the Civic and Monash air quality station, and over 100 at the Florey air quality station.

Air pollution, especially fine particulates (PM2.5), has no safe level of exposure. Air quality index ratings above 100 exceeds the national standard. At 150 or above, according to Commonwealth environmental health authorities, “everyone may begin to experience health effects”.

Workplace health risks from the smoke are worsened due to the extended heat wave.

Employers have legal obligations to workers to ensure the health and safety of employees, and this includes working in hot weather, during heat waves and at times of significant smoke haze. This obligation for employers extends to all workplaces, including offices, restaurants and retail stores, not just outdoor workplaces.

Building owners and building managers must also be aware that under the WHS Act, they are duty holders, and are legally required to ensure the health and safety of workers who work in their buildings.

Employers should reschedule outdoor work or work that is strenuous. Employers should also take reasonable steps to eliminate, or minimise, exposure to the smoke.

UnionsACT has prepared a fact sheet for employers about their obligations:


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

“The combination of toxic bushfire smoke and the heatwave is a serious risk to the health and safety of working people in the ACT.

“Employers are legally obligated to ensure workers have healthy workplaces. This means employers, including building owners and commercial landlords, must take steps to ensure workplaces are smoke free and kept at a healthy temperature range.

“Non-essential outdoor work should be rescheduled, and employers must provide alternative duties while the smoke or heat pose a health hazard.


“Employers cannot claim ‘ignorance’ of the risks of the smoke or heat as a defence for exposing workers to workplace health hazards.”

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