Unions say they consider it 'illegal' for workers to be forced to work out in Sydney's smoke after the city choked through its worst day yet

AAP Image/Joel Carrett
  • Unions NSW issued an urgent warning to stop work outdoors if the smoke in Sydney has rendered it unsafe.
  • It comes as Sydneysiders complained about the city’s ‘worst-ever’ day, as the Air Quality Index (AQI) surpassed 11 times the hazardous levels in suburbs like Macquarie Park
  • The smoke was enough to trigger fire alarms in the city, cause office evacuations, and cloud a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Blanketed in smoke from nearby bushfires, Sydney’s air quality hit 11 times the hazardous level in some areas on Tuesday.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment recorded an Air Quality Index (AQI) in parts of the city above 1400, more than 12 times the 200 level considered hazardous to people’s health.

Parramatta’s north was the worst suburb, recording an astounding 2214 in the morning. While Macquarie Park, Bringlley, Campbelltown West, Rozelle, Richmond, St Mary’s, Liverpool and Oakdale meanwhile all sported ratings above 1000.

Amid the conditions, New South Wales Unions urged workers to consider going home.

“Air quality in parts of NSW has deteriorated and work outside is no longer safe without protection,” the peak body tweeted. “We’re advising all non-essential workers to work indoors or from home.”

“The smoke hazard is ten times the healthy limit,” Union NSW Assistant Secretary, Thomas Costa, told Business Insider Australia. “We consider it illegal to be forced to work in these conditions and will stick up for any worker who wants to down tools.”

“Only emergency and essential service employees should be working outdoors today.”

With smaller particles able to enter the lungs and even the bloodstream, and parts of the city reaching above 40 degrees Celcius, the New South Wales Health Department echoed the warning.

“Hot weather and poor air quality are a recipe for severe illness unless people take simple precautions,” Dr Richard Broome said in a release.

“It’s best to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, which is generally from about 11 am to 4 pm. Staying indoors also protects you from bushfire smoke. If you don’t have air conditioning, using a fan can cool you down and keeping curtains shut helps to keep the heat out of your home. It’s also important to minimise physical activity and to drink plenty of water.”

Sydney Air Quality (Safety Culture)

Residents described it as the “worst” they had ever experienced, with one saying the air on Tuesday had surpassed notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi and Beijing.

It was enough to constrict visibility to several hundred metres, forcing the suspension of ferries across the city, and ruining the photos for at least one couple’s wedding day.

Workers reported the evacuation of office buildings, the closure of university campuses, and the triggering of smoke alarms as a result.

Meanwhile, at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), a Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Queensland was inundated. The resulting footage and the fact you can barely make out the stumps makes you question whether O’Keefe is really celebrating taking wickets on a blind pitch or the fact the collapse of Queensland’s tail means the players can simply go inside.

Unsurprisingly, many noted the political reluctance to talk about the smoke in Sydney – most glaringly Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who held a press conference on his religious freedom bill there on Tuesday.

Instead, it was former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, currently touring Australia’s east coast, who put forward his two cents on the matter.

He’s not wrong.

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