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Poor Air Quality: What are your WHS obligations?

With bushfires impacting communities across Australia, Comcare would like to advise PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) of their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.

PCBUs must ensure they provide and maintain a safe working environment for their workers in indoor and outdoor environments so as far as is reasonably practicable.

Indoor working environments

PCBUs should ensure that indoor environments are safe and without risks to health for workers during periods of elevated smoke. PCBUs should:

  • work with their property management, such as building landlords, to monitor the air quality of their buildings or workplaces
  • act if the air quality is not within the acceptable levels
  • keep staff informed of the measures taken.

PCBUs can contact Comcare via WHS.help@comcare.gov.au for further information.

The Commonwealth Department of Health advises that “The best way to reduce exposure to smoke is to stay indoors with the doors and windows shut. Air conditioning can also help to filter particles from indoor air”. Further information is available in the Code of Practice: Managing Work Environment and Facilities.

Indoor air quality

There is no single Australian standard that addresses acceptable indoor air quality.

PCBUs should work with their property teams and/or building landlords to address any concerns about indoor air quality resulting from bushfire smoke. Smoke from bushfires is made up of very small particles and gases including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Building landlords can advise you on any protections provided by their building ventilation and monitoring systems.

If air quality analysis is required, PCBUs can seek specialist advice to assess any impacts that outdoor contaminants may have on indoor air quality. Air quality analysis includes the physical, chemical and microbiological makeup within and around buildings especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.

For more information about smoke and air quality visit the BOM website.

Outdoor working environments

PCBUs should ensure that outdoor or field work is rescheduled until conditions (e.g. visibility and air quality) improve. However, if work needs to go ahead PCBUs should take the following steps:

Other relevant advice

PCBUs should also advise workers that if they have concerns about their health, they should seek medical advice from their doctor. Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek urgent medical attention. People who are sensitive to smoke and air pollution can be more vulnerable to heat related illness as well, so staying hydrated and cool is important.

Further information on bushfire assistance is available at the following websites:

For further information about your WHS obligations, please contact Comcare via WHS.help@comcare.gov.au

Page last updated: 10 Jan 2020