NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott appealed to employers to make sure they support “in any way possible, any volunteers that are on your staff”.
“To those who have got family members that are in the agencies, particularly the RFS, please give them our love and support.”
Australian Workers Union national secretary Daniel Walton said work had stopped on some road projects including the NorthConnex tunnel and the M1 Pacific Highway.
“At sites where there is a clear threat to well-being we are stopping work,” he said.
“We are calling on all employers to take a common sense approach and protect the health and safety of their workforce. If they don’t there will be more stoppages.”
Mr Walton said the union’s health and safety representatives were actively monitoring air quality.
“For outdoor workers the threat posed by bushfire smog is serious, especially those with persisting lung conditions,” he said.
A spokeswoman for NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said work stopped overnight on Thursday on the Tuggerah to Doyalson M1 Pacific Motorway upgrade because of unsafe visibility.
“All workers were sent home on this project, apart from the ones able to work in airconditioned cabs using recycled air,” she said.
The spokeswoman said no work schedules had been disrupted on the New M5 or NorthConnex.
“If individual workers are classed as sensitive to changes in air quality, they may have stayed home, however there was no official work shut down for New M5 works,” she said.
Australian Services Union NSW secretary Natalie Lang said the union had contacted Sydney Water and had received no response in relation to the impact on outdoor workers, including civil maintenance staff, of ongoing pollution levels.
A Sydney Water spokeswoman said the safety of its employees is a “top priority”.
“We have actively encouraged employees, especially people with heart or lung disease to avoid outdoor activity and stay inside as much as possible,” she said.
“As soon as air quality became hazardous, we issued a safety alert and stressed that non-essential work outdoors should be postponed and encouraged employees to work to the conditions and take additional breaks.”
Maritime and electrical trade unions have also advised members to down tools.
Port Botany terminal operator DP World confirmed dock workers who downed tools on Thursday had returned to work overnight.
Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) NSW secretary Darren Greenfield said members have been advised to respond to the smoke in the same way they would to inclement weather to protect their health.
The United Services Union, which represents local government, energy, airline and clerical and administrative employees throughout NSW and the ACT, has issued a warning to workers to immediately stop work and move to a safe place and seek medical attention if they feel ill.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.