MUA SAFETY BULLETIN: Bushfire smoke at work

Published: 18 Dec 2019

NSW has been under a blanket of smoke; ash has been falling in many areas, making it difficult not only to work, but to breathe. This situation could last for weeks, and could spread to other states.

Members are asked to download and print the union’s Safety Bulletin and post at work.

Bushfire smoke contains microscopic particles which can enter the blood stream and have a range of harmful effects in our bodies.

People with respiratory and cardiovascular problems could be at serious risk. Otherwise healthy people are feeling the effects of the ongoing poor air quality.

All employers in Australia have a duty under the WHS Act to provide a safe place of work. They must ensure the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety. All workers (including contractors) have the right to refuse unsafe work.

Speak to your Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and union delegates to find out if the workplace has addressed the Air Quality Hazard and has a safe system of work in place to deal with the risks. Every workplace has the right to elect HSR's from the workforce.  Trained HSR's have significant powers under the WHS Act.  

If your workplace doesn't have HSR's, contact your Union for advice.

Information on the health effects of bushfire smoke can be found here.

Advice to all members on dealing with smoke in the workplace and measuring the level of hazard is available here.  The NSW government reports air quality information here, but the Safety Bulletin explains how you can get more detailed live information on air quality. The Safety Bulletin is based on NSW Health recommendations but is also relevant in other states as it is based on national air pollution standards. This page will be updated with information for other states as the need arises.

WARNING: Many widely available air quality apps and websites use the US Air Quality Index. Members are warned that the American AQI is based on much poorer air quality standards, and public health recommendations kick in at much higher levels of pollution. Members are urged to ensure they are getting their information from sites based on Australian air pollution standards, check the Safety Bulletin for details.


Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney