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.
Improvement in occupational health and safety (OHS) standards has always been the intention of OHS laws. Parallel to this is the intention of the OHS, and allied, professions to continuously improve health and safety through the prevention of harm. However, political leadership on OHS has been scarce over the last few years, especially in the national governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. So, it is necessary to look beyond the party politics to other sources of change.
At the recent scientific meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide, prominent academic, Professor Maureen Dollard, introduced a much- needed element of political science into her presentation which was titled “Work Organisation and Psychosocial Factors”. SafetyAtWorkBlog was able to ask Dollard, and fellow presenter Professor Sally Ferguson, about this political context.
Unrelated to the article earlier today about working in extreme heat, last week Australia’s Cancer Council released an occupational health and safety (OHS) guide for working outdoors and to prevent and avoid skin cancer. It is a timely release for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere as it allows us several months to review our sun protection policies and practices.
In the prevention chapter the guide follows the established Hierarchy of Controls but perhaps too closely on one issue. There is an assumption that outdoor work occurs primarily in daylight hours, the time of highest risk of ultraviolet (UV) risk. Under administrative controls the guide advise to Reschedule outdoor work programs” perhaps planning
“work routines so outdoor tasks are carried out earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when UV levels are lower”page 17