On January 30 2020, the Victorian Trades Hall released a new “approved safety standard” on air quality risks for outdoor workers. It is the latest of a series of alerts and guidelines generated by the persistence of bushfire smoke in urban areas of, especially, New South Wales and Victoria. Bushfire smoke is only going to become more frequent in Australia, and its persistence over weeks, requires a coordinated discussion on how Australian workplaces and practices need to change to adapt to the new climate.
The Guardian has a very good article (paywalled) about the use of facemasks to prevent exposure to bushfire smoke. The focus is on the fashion end of the personal protective equipment (PPE) so safety gets less attention. This article tries to fill some of those gaps.
Safe Work Australia (SWA) has reminded Australian businesses that they have a formal occupational health and safety (OHS) responsibility for workers exposed to poor air quality. Its guidance provides sound risk considerations for outdoor workers and their managers, but needs further explanation to help businesses reduce the risk in a practical sense.
On 19 December 2019, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) issued a confusing and, ostensibly, three-paragraph media release about working in heat, a hazard that has been regularly analysed by SafetyAtWorkBlog. It states:
“OHS laws which are designed to keep workers safe at work need to be updated to deal with the reality of climate change, which will mean hotter days and more bushfires, resulting in conditions which are hazardous to workers, especially those who work outside.”
Paragraph 1 – update the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. Paragraph 3 – new regulations needed:
“… we call on the Morrison Government to act urgently to implement new regulations to protect workers from these hazards.”
So which is it – enforce the old or create new?Continue reading “Instead of throwing stones, build a stronger house”
I am entering the last of my four week’s work on a construction site in Sydney. In my first week, the city was blanketed with thick smoke from nearby bushfires and all construction sites closed early for a day because the air was deemed hazardous. That smoke has persisted for all of my time in Sydney. Last Friday I was on site when the occasional piece of ash fluttered on to me. The bushfire situation is unprecedented and my experience has shown me that Australia and Australian companies seem to struggle with how to operate in a disaster that will undoubtedly return.