Guidance on Working in Heat and Air Pollution: Safe Work Australia

Federal workplace health and safety statutory body Safe Work Australia (SWA) has provided workplaces with updated guidance on working in extreme heat and air pollution, in wake of the bushfire emergency and record temperatures experienced around the country.

Issued at the end of January this year, SWA has updated and published new advice on managing risks from air pollution, news on bushfire and air pollution, working outside, and a Model Code of Practice for managing work environments and facilities.

1,360 workers claimed compensation for heat related illnesses and injuries over 2008-2009 to 2017-2018.

SWA has also updated their guide for managing risks in heat; identifying and controlling heat hazards; infographics, and factsheets for quick facts and reference. []

Model WHS laws require Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to manage workplace health and safety risks from working in heat and air pollution.

SWA guides PCBUs to begin from the hierarchy of control measures and do what is reasonably practicable to reduce or eliminate risks from heat or air pollution.

This may start from moving workspaces from high heat or pollution to low or no heat or air pollution, if possible.

If the risk cannot be eliminated, workplaces should substitute the hazard, isolate the hazard, or reduce the risk with mitigation methods.

This may include taking work inside, ensuring ventilation of fresh air, sealing off doors and windows, and using refrigerative instead of evaporative air conditioning, as the latter can potentially pull in polluted air from the atmosphere.

Reducing exposure to heat and air pollution using personal protective equipment (PPE) or extended shift rotation rest periods is also recommended by SWA.

Workplaces and PCBUs can also determine levels of heat stress by using Queensland’s WorkSafe calculator here. []

Cleaning out work areas with HEPA air filtered vacuum cleaners, maintaining plant and equipment, and implementing an air quality monitoring system are all recommended methods.

Wearing masks or using air purifiers in workplaces can also help mitigate risks from air pollution.

Workplaces should always have First Aid treatment for heat and air pollution related injuries and illnesses, such as saline eye drops, burn creams and salves, ample water, and rest areas.

SWA also stresses some workers have different reactions to heat than others, which should be taken into consideration.

For more guidance on working in air pollution, click here.

For more on working in heat and reducing risks, click here.