Health and Safety Resource Centre

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A member of our Health & Safety team, Annette Alexander, provides useful information on health precautions that can be taken at work to protect employees from bushfire smoke.

Bushfire smoke can adversely affect air quality as it produces fine smoke particles which are known to affect our breathing system. The smaller or finer the particles, the deeper they go into the lungs.

These particles can cause a variety of health problems, such as itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis. The smoke particles can also aggravate existing lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.

Symptoms can occur for several days after smoke is inhaled, so people with the above conditions need to be vigilant with their treatment programs.

Workers with asthma or a lung condition who develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, should follow their asthma or COPD action plan and seek medical advice if symptoms don’t settle.

Healthy adults generally find that any symptoms they have developed during a bushfire event clear after the smoke disappears.

Understanding air quality

The air quality index (AQI) is an index for reporting daily and hourly air quality. It is an indication of how clean or polluted the air is in areas across Australia. The AQI is a quick and easy tool to inform you about:

  •  air pollution levels at your nearest monitoring site or region
  •  specific information for people more at risk from exposure to short-term air pollution
  • simple steps to take to protect workers and yourself.

State air quality updates

Each state and territory has a website which provides regular updates on air quality including toxic pollutants and fine particles. Click on the following links for further information.


 Health Precautions at Work

The following precautions can help you minimise adverse effects of bushfire smoke for workers:

  •  Where possible encourage workers to stay indoors, with windows and doors closed, and in air-conditioned premises.
  • Reduce physical workloads for workers suffering from asthma or a lung condition, or those particularly affected by the smoke.
  • A P2 face mask that is fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, so there is a good seal around the face, can reduce exposure to fine particles in smoke. However, it can be hard to maintain a good seal and masks become less effective when used for a long time, so they may not offer substantial protection.
  • Consider subscribing to air pollution health alerts to be advised of particularly hazardous conditions so that you can consider what controls should be put in place.

Reference: NSW Government – Environment Dept. 10/12/2019

Further information

For more information on this topic, for or for any other workplace matter,  please contact Ai Group's Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77.

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