Working in air pollution – what are an employer’s obligations?

If your job requires you to work outside, the recent bushfires and dust storms may put your and your staff at risk of exposure to air pollution. As an employer you need to be aware of your legal obligations.

Under the Work Health Safety Act 2011, employers have a duty to, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure health and safety by eliminating or minimising risks – this is not only for their employees but also for subcontractors.

Smoke from bushfires is made up of very small particles and gases. These particles in the air can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, causing itchy/burning eyes, runny nose, headaches, irritate the throat or sinuses and cause shortness of breath. The particles are so small they can also penetrate deep into the lungs. In healthy people these symptoms may be temporary, however those with a lung or heart condition may experience a worsening of their condition, leading to a more severe response such as an asthma attack or heart attack.

So how do you keep people safe and meet your obligations?

First you should check your local air quality index to determine the level of air quality and risk where you are working.

You can check your states environment protection authority website for the most up to date readings:




South Australia

Western Australia


Northern Territory

Australian Capital Territory

According to Safe Work Australia, dust and smoke may:

  • reduce air quality and impact visibility
  • settle onto equipment and impact the functioning of plant and grip of surfaces
  • irritate the airway, nose and eyes.

You must talk to your workers and their elected Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) and take their views into account when deciding on control measures to eliminate or minimise WHS risks at your workplace, including measures to eliminate or minimise risks from air pollution.

Your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to health and safety caused by working outdoors when air quality is reduced, including:

  • working indoors (where possible)
  • rescheduling outdoor work until conditions (e.g., visibility and air quality) improve​
  • ensuring plant is functioning correctly and has not been affected by dust or debris
  • cleaning any dust and debris off outdoor surfaces
  • providing personal protective equipment such as eye protection and correctly fitted P2 rated face masks.

Safe Work Australia has published guidance on ‘Managing the risks from air pollution: Advice for PCBUs’:


Safe Work Australia
Health NSW

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