Reduced outdoor air quality – employer plans and responsibilities
Safe Work Australia and state agencies have provided information for employers on what to do regarding reduced outdoor air quality as a result of bushfire smoke and/or airborne dust.
The following points are relevant to most employers when planning and actioning circumstances where outdoor air quality is a risk:
Consider the risks of working outdoors
Look at the geographic location of your workplace. If you are in close proximity to a dust storm or smoke from bushfires, check your local air quality index to obtain the latest health advice and follow it.
Check with employees and identify those most likely at risk. Find alternative duties away from smoke or dust affected areas were possible [such as indoors (windows/doors shut) instead of outdoors]. This includes sufferers of asthma, emphysema and angina.
Provide PPE to protect from inhalation of dust and smoke [P2 mask]. Simple paper or cloth face masks do not provide protection from bushfire smoke. Specialised ‘P2’ masks will filter smoke particles but they require an air-tight seal between the mask and face to be effective.
Dust storms and safety
Visibility deteriorates very quickly during a dust storm. If you are on the road and your ability to drive safely is impaired by poor visibility, reduce speed.
Be prepared to pull off the road [if safe to do so] when visibility deteriorates to less than 100m.
If your vehicle is air-conditioned, reduce the amount of dust entering your car by switching the air intake to 'recirculate'.
Reducing the smoke your workers breathe
Keep staff indoors with your windows and doors closed. Avoid physical activity outdoors unless absolutely essential and then only for those not identified as ‘at risk’ personnel.
If there is a break in smoky conditions, open the windows and air out the indoor space.
If using an air-conditioner, set it to ‘recycle’ or ‘recirculate’.
Plan in advance to use a portable air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air or HEPA filter, if available. These should be set up in a well-sealed room the right size for the filter.
Post event lessons learnt – improved future planning
After the event, look at what could have been done in preparation to reduce the risk.
Initiate or update plans to ensure preparation is in place for better outcomes next time. Examples include HEPA filter air cleaner devices available, sufficient P2 masks with instructions for use etc.
Also ensure a list of ‘at risk’ staff are known in advance and communications with them in place to work from home [don’t come into work notification] where the risk is significant.