How building managers should address bushfire smoke concerns

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Bushfire smoke covering a city.

With bushfire smoke continuing to pose a health risk across Australia, building managers must understand how they can keep contamination in their property to a minimum.

Summers in Australia bring with them a range of environmental health risks. Intense heat, extreme UV ratings, increased chances of dehydration – these are critical considerations, but they are predictable.

The bushfires currently raging along the nation’s east coast are not. Not only do they have the potential to present sudden danger at a moment’s notice, but the effects of these fires extend far beyond the areas in which they burn. Perhaps the most prominent of these effects is smoke haze, which has seen cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra tout the worst air quality in the world in sporadic spurts across the last couple of months. Able to travel thousands of kilometres (smoke from Australia has reached South America and, potentially, the Antarctic) bushfire smoke is a noxious cocktail of gases and minute particles that can poison a person’s bloodstream via the lungs. As such, anyone who is able to see or even smell smoke haze is at risk of inhaling these pollutants.

The full health impacts posed by bushfire smoke are not fully understood, but experts are gravely concerned by predictions of what such prolonged exposure could mean. In a media release published on January 3, the Australian Medical Association highlights the need for increased precaution and awareness of the risks associated with bushfire smoke.

“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.”

Keeping a building or larger facility free from smoke is easier said than done, but there are steps property managers can take to ensure the well-being of building users. Whether you manage an office, a residential building, a commercial complex or anything in between, these important tips from Comcare, the Australian Government’s arm for workplace safety, are just as relevant:

  • Stay indoors with the doors and windows closed.
  • Set air conditioning systems to recycle mode to keep the infiltration of external pollutants to a minimum. Where possible, ensure these systems have appropriate filters.
  • Remind users to keep medication for asthma and other respiratory conditions on hand at all times.
  • Consider or recommend the purchasing of air cleaners, particularly those with HEPA filters.
  • Monitor the air quality at all times.
  • Act if the air quality is not within safe levels.
  • Keep building users informed.
  • Postpone all outdoor work where possible.

With bushfires set to continue for some time, and bushfire seasons predicted to become more intense year-on-year, it is critical that building managers understand their responsibilities and act accordingly.


Image: Hidefumi Ohmichi, via

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