Bushfires and Working Outdoors: What you need to know | NECA

News & Views

24th January 2020

Bushfires and Working Outdoors: What you need to know

Members are advised that the air quality on the east coast has been the subject of a number of recent enquiries. Hot, dry and windy conditions are forecasted for the summer months.

While most healthy people can tolerate temporary exposure to air pollution (though it may cause itchy eyes and throat irritation), smoke particles can aggravate existing heart and lung conditions, and therefore put vulnerable people at risk.

The National Electrical Contractors' Association (NECA) have formed the view that the smoke conditions are likely to fall within the scope of inclement weather. Accordingly, members should follow the inclement weather procedures set out in their applicable award or enterprise agreement.

Members may keep employees on-site if they carry out an appropriate risk assessment. This risk assessment should include the implementation of measures to allow the risks to be properly controlled. Such controls should include: 

 

  1. Supplying exposed workers with P2 masks which are designed to filter out a meaningful level of air pollution. Instruct your workers to wear them while working outdoors.
  2. Relocating your workers to areas indoor. Ideally, you should keep windows and doors closed and set the air conditioner to recycle.
  3. Ensuring that asthma reliever medication is supplied with your first aid kits. Reliever medication is not just for asthma sufferers. It is for anyone with breathing difficulties. If workers are experiencing the following signs then a competent first aider can administer the reliever medication:
    1. minor difficulty breathing while being able to talk in full sentences and able to walk or move around; and/or
    2. may have a cough or wheeze. Anything worse or if you are at all in doubt, then you should call 000.
  4. Carrying out an assessment on the fitness of your employees to work outdoors by asking your employees if they suffer from asthma, a cold or the flu, or other respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, or cardiovascular disease. If this is the case, you should assess the individual circumstances and act accordingly.

 

All members should continue to monitor the conditions and possible symptoms present with their employees. The risk assessment should take place throughout the entire workday to ensure that all employers take note of any employees with itchy eyes, throat irritations and/or any difficulty breathing.

Further, if your business is required to close due to a stoppage of work that you, as the employer, have no control over such as a natural disaster (such as a bushfire), you may stand down your employee during this period. It is important that you advise your employees of the expected period of the stand down and the frequency in which you will provide updates to them.

You are under no obligation to pay your employees during a stand-down period but you may wish to provide your employees with an opportunity to access their rostered days off, annual leave or long service leave during the stand-down period.

It is important to note that the Award, enterprise agreement and employment contracts may provide specific provisions with respect to stand-downs, so these documents should be consulted to ensure the procedures for inclement weather and/or stand down are adhered to.

 

Please contact Lauren Howe, NECA Legal on 1300 361 099 or lauren.howe@neca.asn.au should you wish to discuss this further or if you require further legal advice.