Bushfire smoke impacts in the workplace

Bushfire smoke can affect your health and your ability to work safely.  

WHS duties with bushfire smoke 

As a person conducting a business of undertaking (PCBU), you must consider all health and safety risks when bushfire smoke is present in your workplace.  

Failure to take steps to manage the risk of bushfire smoke can result in a breach of work health and safety (WHS) laws. 

You must identify, assess and control hazards and risks from air pollution, including bushfire smoke in the workplace. Examples of the steps you can take to work safely when there is bushfire smoke are provide in this factsheet

Because unpredictable wind carries bushfire smoke, you should make sure you can quickly implement control measures. 

Plan for bushfire smoke 

Take these steps as part of your planning process: 

  • Understand bushfire smoke hazards and the risks to your workers.  

  • Talk with your co-workers about how to work safely when there is bushfire smoke. 

  • Talk to your doctor if you are more at risk of health effects. 

  • Plan alternative work tasks that will reduce breathing in bushfire smoke. 

  • Visit your local health authority website for local information on bushfire smoke.  

Prepare your workplace for bushfire smoke 

These are some things you can do in your workplace: 

  • Check how well doors and windows seal, if air locks work, and if smoke particles could settle on equipment and affect machinery.  

  • Buy an indoor air cleaner (purifier) and have a supply of spare filters. 

  • Have personal protective equipment (PPE) available, such as P2 or N95 masks and learn how to use them correctly – however, masks may make breathing difficult and can increase heat-related illness risk. 

  • Always have a mobile phone or other way to communicate, particularly if you’re working alone. 

  • Download and display the working safely when there is bushfire smoke poster. 

Monitor bushfire smoke levels 

To monitor smoke near you, you should: 

You can also use these apps: 

Respond to warnings of bushfire smoke levels 

If there is a bushfire smoke hazard near you: 

  • Follow advice from emergency services and government health agencies. 

  • Reschedule outdoor work where possible. 

  • Support workers suffering physical effects from the smoke. 

  • Increase rest times and have them indoors, if possible. 

  • Rotate staff who work outside into an inside environment. 

  • Close windows and doors while it’s smoky – open doors and windows during smoke-free periods. 

Use: 

  • Water, eye drops and saline nasal sprays to reduce throat, eye and nose irritation. 

  • Air purifier. 

  • Clean P2/N95 respirators – replace when they are dirty or damaged. 

  • Air conditioners on recycle mode, including in the building and vehicles. 

Don’t add to bushfire smoke risk 

Don’t increase the risk of starting bushfires or making them worse, particularly when working in rural or bushland areas. Ensure you: 

  • Properly maintain flammable chemical and liquid carriers, such as fuel, to minimise the risk of unintentional leakage onto the ground. 

  • Dispose of litter correctly, particularly cigarette butts. 

If it’s not safe to work 

A worker has the right to stop unsafe work if there’s a serious risk to their health and safety and should tell their employer when its unsafe to work. 

They must: 

  • Notify you as soon as possible. 

  • Be available to do suitable alternative work to reduce or eliminate the risk of exposure to the smoke. 

Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) can direct a worker to stop unsafe work if the worker’s health and safety is at serious risk. The HSR must try to resolve the issue with you first.