With smoke from Australian bushfires blanketing sections of the country, it's important to understand the associated risks and how to safeguard your health.
The Australian summer is a notoriously hazardous time for builders, construction workers and anyone else who predominantly works outdoors. Intense heat, high UV indexes and a range of other factors make preserving your health an even more critical consideration at this time of year.
The catastrophic bushfires currently raging in the nation's east have produced another health risk: smoke. Able to travel thousands of kilometres, bushfire smoke is a noxious cocktail of gases and small particles that can enter the lungs and poison an exposed individual's blood. Just being able to see or smell the smoke means you are at high risk of inhaling these pollutants.
The full health impacts of bushfire smoke are unclear, but experts are gravely concerned. In a media release published January 3, the Australian Medical Association highlighted the need for increased precautions and awareness of the risks that extend far beyond the current fire zones.
"The length and density of smoke exposure is a new and possibly fatal health risk that many people within our community have not previously had to face," says AMA president, Dr Tony Bartone.
"With denser smoke haze and longer periods that people endure smoke inhalation, there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face developing serious illness."
Protecting yourself from smoke is easier said than done, especially considered the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of the crisis unfolding. Fortunately, there are guidelines for both employers and employees to help them understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to staying safe.
The most important of these come from Comcare, the Australian Government's arm for workplace safety. Comcare advises that outdoor work should be rescheduled where possible. If it can't:
- Appropriate risk assessments should be undertaken prior to the commencement of work.
- Appropriate personal protective equipment should be provided, along with instructions on correct use. Guidelines for appropriate face masks can be found here.
- If workers are operating alone, remotely or in isolation, employers are required to ensure they have access to an effective means of communication.
- Employers and should remain aware of bushfires in the surrounding areas and advise employees accordingly.
- Air quality levels should be monitored at all times.
Those who are indoors aren't immune from the risk. Whether working in an office or relaxing at home, the following advice applies:
- Stay indoors with the doors and windows closed.
- If possible, add a filter to your air conditioner and set it to recycle mode to keep air pollutants to a minimum.
- Keep medication for asthma and other respiratory conditions on hand at all times and stick to treatment plans.
- Consider an air cleaner, particularly one with a HEPA filter.
Image: Peggy Anke, via Unsplash.com