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Smoke Hazard From Bushfires

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Significant bushfires have been burning across Australia and impacting communities. The current conditions have resulted in very poor air quality.

The Department of Health in WA advises that exposure to smoke from fires can worsen asthma and other respiratory conditions, cause coughing and shortness of breath and irritate the eyes, nose and throat.

Large particles in bushfire smoke irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. The finer particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and are more harmful. Smoke also contains toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.

If you suffer from asthma, heart or lung problems, make sure you always have at least five days’ worth of medication with you if there is a bushfire nearby.

Other health hazards from bushfires include extreme heat, physical injuries such as burns, heat stress and dehydration.

Workplaces must have measures in place to protect worker health and safety and manage risks.

Working in Air Pollution

Check your jurisdiction’s air quality index to determine the air quality where you’re working. If you have an air pollution sensitivity, particularly if combined with an underlying medical condition, you should advise your workplace and follow the advice of your GP or specialist physician. 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

Beside checking out weather warnings and forecasts where you are working as well as the Air Quality Index in your jurisdiction, your workplace must have measures in place to manage the risks to health and safety when air quality is reduced, including:

  • Rescheduling outdoor work until conditions (e.g. visibility and air quality) improve
  • Ensuring equipment 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
  • Eliminating exposure to air pollution is the best protection.

For detailed guidance refer to the model Code of Practice “Managing the work environment and facilities” available at http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/ model-code-practice-managing-work-environment-and-facilities

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