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Q fever risks and construction work

Q fever is an infectious bacterial disease infecting some livestock, pets and wildlife. Infected animals shed bacteria in urine, faeces and milk, and especially in birth products which can cause widespread contamination of the environment.

The bacteria can enter your lungs if the bacteria are airborne in dust or aerosols. People who become acutely ill usually develop a flu-like illness which can require hospitalisation. Most people make a full recovery, but some develop chronic fatigue or other problems. Early treatment with antibiotics can reduce the time people are unwell.

While Q fever mostly infects people working with animals and associated products and waste, there is a risk to construction workers if the site had been used for livestock grazing or is heavily contaminated with kangaroo excreta. The risk varies, depending on:

  • how long ago the land was used for livestock grazing
  • the extent the site is contaminated and the extent of soil disturbance and dust
  • the prevailing weather conditions, especially dry and windy conditions.

You should identify construction activities that are likely to generate dust and plan how to prevent or suppress the dust well in advance of works starting. Environmental sampling to test for Q fever in soil is not recommended as it does not provide a reliable indicator of risk.

Suppression

  • Use engineering and design controls to manage dust (e.g. dust screens, dust catchers fitted to equipment, mechanical ventilation systems, wind breaks and barriers).
  • Use water to suppress dust and prevent it from becoming airborne (e.g. use water tankers, static sprinklers and other watering methods).
  • Protect soil from wind (e.g. apply protective ground cover such as mulch and vegetation, use chemical bonding agents or treatments, cover or seal transitory mounds of soil).
  • Revegetate or seal exposed soil once earthworks are completed.

Isolation

  • Equip earthmoving machinery with an enclosed and ventilated cabin.
  • Fit high-efficiency air filtering systems (e.g. HEPA filters) to the intake and cabin recirculation air intake of front end loaders, excavators and other machinery.
  • Locate car parks, site entry, offices, washing facilities and dining facilities away from areas where dust is generated and keep doors and windows closed.

Work practices

  • Avoid using high-pressure water to clean dirt and dust from surfaces and equipment.
  • Provide vehicle washing facilities and wash down vehicles before leaving the site.
  • Minimise site disturbance (keep vehicle movements to a minimum, limit traffic movement over loose soil, keep general traffic to watered, treated or sealed roads and limit speed).
  • Wash hands often and work boots before entering site buildings.
  • Use a properly fitted (PDF, 0.86 MB)  particulate respirator and instruct workers in its correct use and fit.

Housekeeping

  • Ensure regular cleaning to minimise dust and dirt accumulation and clean surfaces and equipment using wet cleaning rather than dry sweeping or using compressed air.

Inform workers about the Q fever risk and ask them to tell their doctor about their work if they become sick with a flu-like illness. If workers have unavoidable exposure to potentially infectious dust, seek medical advice about Q fever screening and vaccination.

The Q Fever Register has a list of doctors providing Q fever screening and vaccination. You must notify Workplace Health and Safety Queensland if a worker acquires Q fever at work.

There may be an ongoing risk at workplaces such as solar and wind farms once work is completed, especially if livestock are kept on site or it is densely populated with kangaroos. People working with livestock or who mow and slash contaminated grass are most at risk.

More information

Visit worksafe.qld.gov.au for information on managing Q fever at work or for more health information visit Queensland Health website.