The Australian Capital Territory has been experiencing smoky conditions caused by the current bushfires.
The Education Directorate has been working with experts including ACT Health and the Worksafe Commissioner, and have consulted with a range of stakeholders as well as unions and the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association, to prepare clear advice for schools and school communities about how to respond to air quality issues before Term 1 begins.
The safety of students and staff is our highest priority and ACT Public Schools will be supported to make decisions that are right for their staff and students, based on the local conditions. In mild conditions, schools may use mitigation strategies for sensitive groups, such us younger children remaining indoors and limiting physical activity as much as possible. In poorer conditions, schools may implement measures for the general population, such as the cancellation of outdoor activities and excursions.
The following guidelines are based on public health advice and identify differentiated approaches based on prevailing weather conditions and level of relative vulnerabilities of individual staff and students, depending on their susceptibility to smoke related illness.
Health impacts of smoke
ACT Health have advised that the impacts of heavy smoke may include itchy eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and coughing. Water-based eye drops and throat lozenges can help alleviate some of these irritations.
While evidence shows P2 and N95 masks also filter some smoke, these masks are not recommended for children because they are not available in small enough sizes, do not fit properly and can impede breathing.
The best way to minimise exposure to smoke is to avoid being outdoors when there are high levels of smoke in the air. This is particularly the case for people who can be more vulnerable, including children, those with heart and lung conditions (including asthma), pregnant women and people over 65.