Overview

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Around a quarter of Australia's workforce are employed in jobs that may require working outdoors for at least some of the time.

Working in bad weather

If you work outside, you’re at risk of exposure to bad weather conditions including storms, wind, rain, and lightning. Your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to your health and safety caused by bad weather, including:

  • working indoors (where possible)
  • postponing outside work
  • providing access to shelter
  • securing structures and objects and turning power off, and
  • providing protective equipment, like eye protection.

Eliminating exposure to bad weather is the best protection.

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Working in sun

If you work outside, you’re at risk of exposure to ultra violet radiation from the sun, even when it’s cloudy.

Sun exposure can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the skin. Your workplace must have measures in place to prevent sun-related disease and injury, including:

  • working indoors (where possible)
  • working outside only during mornings and afternoons
  • providing shade and shelter, and
  • using sun protective clothing, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Eliminating exposure to ultra violet radiation is the best protection.

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Working in heat

If you work outside, you’re at risk of exposure to heat.

Working in heat can cause heat-related illness including fainting, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Working in heat can also cause dehydration, burns, and can even reduce concentration and change the way your medications work.

Your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to your health and safety caused by working in heat, including:

  • working indoors (where possible)
  • postponing work or scheduling it for cooler parts of the day
  • using automated or remote-controlled equipment instead of manual labour
  • providing access to shelter
  • encouraging workers to drink water regularly
  • cooling the work area with fans or misters
  • scheduling frequent rests, and
  • providing personal protective equipment like hats.

Eliminating exposure to heat is the best protection.

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Working in air pollution

If you work outside, you’re at risk of exposure to air pollution.

You should check your jurisdiction’s air quality index to determine the air quality where you’re working. If you have an air pollution sensitivity, particularly if combined with an underlying medical condition, you should advise your workplace and follow the advice of your GP or specialist physician.

Events such as dust storms and bushfires may temporarily reduce outdoor air quality and pose health and safety risks to workers. 

Dust and smoke may:

  • reduce air quality and impact visibility
  • settle onto equipment and impact the functioning of plant and grip of surfaces, and
  • irritate the airway, nose and eyes.

Your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to health and safety caused by working outdoors when air quality is reduced, including:

  • working indoors (where possible)
  • rescheduling outdoor work until conditions (e.g. visibility and air quality) improve​
  • ensuring plant is functioning correctly and has not been affected by dust or debris
  • cleaning any dust and debris off outdoor surfaces, and
  • providing personal protective equipment such as eye protection and correctly fitted, P2 rated face masks.

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Air Quality Indexes

Eliminating exposure to air pollution is the best protection.

Working near bushfires

You should be aware of any bushfires near your work area. Follow instructions and advice from emergency services and ensure you are able to evacuate the area if needed. Remain vigilant and immediately report any smoke or fires that you see. Your workplace must prepare and inform you of the procedures in the event of an emergency.

If you are working alone, ensure you have a means of communication with you at all times (e.g. a mobile phone). If you are working remotely or in an isolated place, your workplace must ensure you can be contacted and receive assistance in an emergency.

Ensure that your work does not increase the risk of starting or intensifying bush fires, particularly if you are working in rural or bushland areas. For example:

  • ensure that any carriers of flammable chemicals and liquids, such as fuel, are properly maintained to minimise the risk of unintentional leakage onto the ground, and
  • ensure you correctly dispose of litter, particularly cigarette butts.

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Working in cold

If you work outside, you may be at risk of exposure to extreme cold.

Prolonged exposure to cold can result in hypothermia, a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Your workplace must have measures in place manage the risks to your health and safety cause by exposure to cold weather, including:

  • providing heating, for example cab heaters
  • providing protection, such as a hut or the cabin of a vehicle
  • providing warm and waterproof clothing, and
  • enabling workers who are not used to working in cold conditions to acclimatise.

Eliminating exposure to cold is the best protection.

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If work becomes unsafe

In some circumstances you have a right to cease or refuse to carry out unsafe work. You have this right if you have a reasonable concern that you would be exposed to a serious risk to your health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard. You must inform your workplace as soon as you can that you have ceased work. You must also be available to carry out suitable alternative work.

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) can direct a worker in their work group to cease unsafe work. HSRs can do this if:

  • they have a reasonable concern that a worker would be exposed to a serious risk to health and safety from an immediate or imminent hazard, and
  • they have already consulted and attempted to resolve the issue with the business or undertaking for whom the workers are carrying out work (unless the risk is so serious and immediate or imminent that it is not reasonable to consult first).​​

HSRs must inform the workplace of any direction that has been given to cease unsafe work. HSRs can only direct that unsafe work cease if they have completed their initial training under the model WHS laws. 

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Further advice

For guidance specific to your industry and workplace contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

 

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