Work health & safety alert: Bushfire smoke poses dangers to workers

UnionsACT has today issued a work health and safety alert about the bushfire smoke.

Bushfire smoke is a serious health hazard. There is no safe exposure level for air pollution like bushfire smoke.

Health authorities in 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.

People with pre-existing health and respiratory conditions, heart and lung conditions, and older people, are especially vulnerable to the effects of bushfire smoke.

Health professionals advise that people should avoid smoke exposure if possible, and that if you are feeling any unusual symptoms, shortness of breath or do not feel well, you should speak to a health care professional or go to a hospital.

Employers are reminded they have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment to their employees. This includes volunteers.

Bushfire smoke represents a hazard to workers’ health and safety. Employers should be aware that they cannot claim ignorance to the risks of exposure to smoke from bushfires, and that they may be found to be negligent in taking adequate precautions to reduce exposure to airborne hazards.

During this time, Employers should find alternative duties for employees who are exposed to bushfire smoke, for example inside and away from smoke exposure.


Read the WHS Bushfire Smoke Fact Sheet

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

“UnionsACT urges employers in Canberra to reduce the exposure of workers to hazardous bushfire smoke.

“The smoke from bushfires is toxic. There is no safe level of exposure to the smoke.

“Health professionals in bushfire affected states have all issued health warnings about exposure to bushfire smoke. They are urging people to avoid physical activity outdoors, and to minimize exposure as much as possible.

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

“If 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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