Smoke Exposure Management on the Fire Ground: A Reference Guide

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Smoke Exposure Management on the Fire Ground: A Reference Guide provides detailed information to assist fire  agencies in managing smoke exposure on the fire ground and also to be used as reference manual for the Field Guide to Smoke Exposure Management (Reisen and Meyer 2009). It is targeted towards personnel involved in fire management on and off the fire ground, including firefighters, incident managers and OH&S staff. It provides background information for smoke toxics assessment on the fire ground and is intended to help understand the exposure risk assessment process. The guide reviews potential health impacts of bushfire smoke on firefighters, summarises the occupational health and safety guidelines and standards applicable to bushfire smoke exposure, assesses personal exposure levels of firefighters to bushfire air toxics and provides a range of mitigation strategies. It is based on personal exposure measurements that were conducted between 2004 and 2008 within the Bushfire CRC project ‘Air Toxics Exposure and Management’.

Prior to the Bushfire CRC project, extensive research on firefighters’ exposures to bushfire smoke had been conducted in the United States, with little or no information available on exposure levels to firefighters in  Australia and New Zealand. The lack of air toxics exposure knowledge for Australasian firefighters (both career and volunteers) makes it difficult to assess whether exposures to bushfire smoke during prescribed burning and wildfire operations could potentially impact firefighters’ health. This is the first Australian study that looked  extensively at firefighters’ exposures to a range of air toxics in bushfire smoke and provided much needed information on whether firefighting represents a health risk and, if so, how it can be managed.

The approach taken to address the issue is through occupational/environmental hygiene studies,
which aim to:
- recognise environmental factors in the work environment which may adversely affect health
- evaluate the exposures and their ability to impair health and well-being in relation to established health-based goals, and if needed,
- develop strategies to eliminate, reduce or control exposures to alleviate adverse effects.


1. Background

2. Bushfire Smoke and Health Effects

2.1 Carbon monoxide
2.2 Respirable particles
2.3 Aldehydes
2.4 Volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds
2.5 Additional sources of air toxics
2.6 Summary

3. Occupational Health & Safety Guidelines and Exposure Standards

3.1 Occupational exposure standards
3.2 Current standards relevant to bushfire smoke
3.3 Complexity of bushfire firefighting environment

3.3.1 Altered work shift
3.3.2 Heavier workload
3.3.3 Bushfire smoke particles
3.3.4 Mixture of pollutants
3.4 Summary: OH&S guidelines for the bushfire firefighting work environment

4. Exposure Risk Assessment

4.1 Procedure
4.1.1 Hazard identification
4.1.2 Exposure assessment
4.1.3 Exposure risk assessment
4.2 Factors that influence exposure levels
4.2.1 Prescribed burns
4.2.2 Wildfires
4.2.3 Classification of firefighter exposure levels
4.3 Risk assessment of firefighter exposure

5. Mitigation strategies

5.1 Minimising exposures on the fire ground
5.1.1 Crew rotation among work tasks or locations
5.1.2 Recovery time
5.1.3 Management of OH&S risks by district fire officers
5.2 Personal protective equipment
5.3 Summary

6. Application of risk assessment and mitigation response

6.1 Smoke exposure assessment on the fire ground
6.1.1 Planning process
6.1.2 Smoke assessment on the fire ground
6.2 Scenario 1 – Fuel reduction burn on a steep slope
6.3 Scenario 2 – Edge burning
6.4 Summary

7. Health Risk Assessment

7.1 Acute effects
7.1.1 Carbon monoxide
7.1.2 Irritants
7.1.3 Particles
7.2 Chronic effects
7.2.1 Non-carcinogenic chronic effects
7.2.2 Carcinogenic effects
7.3 Summary

8 Conclusion

9 Abbreviations

10 Glossary

11 References

CRC Member: Author or Source Reference: 

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