Report: Smoke hit young workers the most

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YOUNG workers in the Canberra region experienced the worse impacts from smoke, according to a report released by UnionsACT today (February 17).

Alex White
UnionsACT secretary Alex White.

The report, which looked into work health and safety and the impact bushfire smoke had on workers between December 1 and January 31, showed that workers as young as 15 or 16 were exposed to hazardous smoke for prolonged periods. And, twice as many young workers lost income due to the smoke, the report said.

Overall, the report found that the lost income for workers due to the smoke is more than $6 million, with more than 18,000 Canberra workers having lost at least one days income.

“More than 85 per cent of Canberran workers worked in a smokey environment,” according to the report.

“Of those, almost 80 per cent felt sick or unwell due to the smoke and 50 per cent worked while exposed to the smoke for more than five hours continuously.”

The report also shows that the majority of employers failed to take adequate steps required under WHS law to eliminate or minimise workers’ exposure to the smoke.

“More than two in five workers did not feel free to voice concerns to management about the health risks of the smoke in their workplace, and more than half were worried that they would experience adverse consequences if they exercised their WHS rights to cease work due to hazardous smoke in the workplace,” it said.

UnionsACT secretary Alex White said this report of almost 1000 workers shows there is an urgent need for much stronger laws and regulations to protect workers’ health in the future.

“Employers are legally obligated to ensure workers have healthy workplaces, and this includes protecting workers from hazardous air pollution from the smoke,” he says.

“Unfortunately, vast numbers of employers failed to ensure workers were safe from toxic bushfire smoke, and it is workers who paid the cost.”

UnionsACT said that the report showed that although ACT Health and major media outlets provided significant and continuous updates about air pollution and smoke safety, there was little workplace-specific information about employers’ WHS obligations or workers’ WHS rights.

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