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Working safely in bushfire smoke: infographic for PCBUs

While a wetter than usual summer has been predicted for Queensland, the threat of bushfires and likely heavy smoke, is a seasonal risk for many Australians, particularly those living and working on the land.

To help PCBUs prepare their workplaces for the current bushfire season, Safe Work Australia has published a new infographic: Working safely in bushfire smoke infographic – PCBUs.

The resource guides workplaces through how to prepare and work around bushfire smoke, from eliminating the risk of bushfire and bushfire smoke to instituting controls and having the correct protective gear on hand.

The guide says that while it is generally not possible to eliminate the risk of bushfires and bushfire smoke, taking simple actions like, disposing of cigarette butts and glass safely, not using power tools during a total fire ban, and not driving vehicles through long grass will help prevent a bushfire.

If there is a bushfire and heavy smoke is visible, substitute outdoor work using alternative work procedures including, moving work sites away from smoky areas, moving indoors, postponing outdoor work, and timing shifts to avoid smoky periods.

When working indoors during smoky conditions workplaces should be isolated to maintain areas of good air quality (close doors and windows and minimise opening to the outdoors).

Undertake engineering controls to minimise the risk:

  • use closed cab machinery and vehicles
  • when working indoors, keep air cleaner by using air purifiers and sealing windows and doors.

These administrative controls also help manage the risk:

  • have a policy on how to monitor air quality and a plan on what to do when there is smoke
  • if working in smoke, increase breaks in smoke free environments
  • air out indoor areas when air quality improves
  • regularly communicate with workers, including those working alone or remotely
  • implement a system for workers to report smoky work sites
  • make your first aid officer aware of the health effects from smoke
  • train workers to work safely and display signs showing what actions to take when there is smoke
  • clean equipment, including HEPA filters, to reduce build-up of smoke particles/ash.

Importantly, if working in smoke is unavoidable, provide workers with P2 or N95 masks.