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Exposure to Lyngbya majuscula (lyngbya), a naturally occurring, toxic, blue-green algae, can cause severe irritation to the eyes, skin, respiratory system or gastrointestinal system.

What’s lyngbya?

Lyngbya majuscula (lyngbya), also known as mermaid’s hair or fireweed, is a naturally occurring, toxic, blue-green algae that occur in blooms in some coastal waters in Queensland.

What are the risks of lyngbya?

Exposure to lyngbya, including dried lyngbya, can cause severe irritation including:

  • skin and eye irritation
  • respiratory irritation and exacerbation of pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma
  • gastrointestinal irritation.

Workers at risk of exposure to lyngbya include:

  • fishing, crabbing and prawning industries
  • marine research workers
  • professional divers
  • workers involved in cleaning foreshores where algal blooms are deposited.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks from hazards at work. A safe and healthy place of work benefits everyone. Access more information about how you can create safe and healthy place of work.

For workers

As a worker, you have a responsibility to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and make sure that your work doesn’t impact on the health and safety of others. You must comply with any reasonable instructions given relating to risk control measures and emergency procedures. You should also make sure you work according to any training or information that’s been provided to you.

For businesses

For employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you must manage risks, as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety laws. Use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

Four steps to manage risk

The first step is to identify if your workers could be exposed to lyngbya. To do this it is important to understand any work that may expose workers to lyngbya. You can be exposed to lyngbya by:

  • skin and eye contact
  • breathing in dried lyngbya
  • swallowing dried lyngbya or contaminated water.

Inspect your business

Think about your place of work and make a note of where work processes and your work environment create a risk of exposure to lyngbya.

Talk to your workers

Talk to your workers to find out if they have any health and safety concerns. You could ask workers to complete a confidential survey which will provide an opportunity for workers who are less likely to speak out in public to provide feedback.

Review available information

It is important to monitor where lyngbya blooms have occurred and their potential drift pattern.

Make sure that you have read all relevant legislation and codes of practice. Stay up to date with information about risks and hazards in the workplace. Research how other places of work have managed lyngbya risks.

The How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) outlines when you should do a risk assessment. You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

A risk assessment can include:

  • the nature of the work and how this exposes workers and others to lyngbya
  • whether the work is required or if it can be rescheduled to a time the risk of exposure is reduced
  • frequency and duration of contact with lyngbya.

The best way to stay safe from lyngbya is to avoid contact with it.

To eliminate the risk of exposure to lyngbya:

  • schedule work outside of peak bloom periods if possible
  • know the locations of established blooms and the possible impact of their drift and reschedule work around these locations if possible.

If you can’t prevent contact, minimise the risk of exposure to lyngbya. You could:

  • change work processes and redesign tasks to minimise the number of workers exposed to lyngbya
  • restrict access to affected areas by members of the public
  • avoid swimming or wading in areas where lyngbya is growing or floating in the water
  • avoid direct contact with lyngbya material washed onto the beach
  • provide hand washing facilities for workers to wash their hands:
    • before eating, drinking and smoking
    • after handling lyngbya
    • after removing personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • provide workers with suitable PPE.

You should also:

  • develop safe work methods for handling, storing, transporting and disposing of lyngbya
  • provide any information, training instruction and supervision that is necessary to protect people from lyngbya risks
  • provide first aid facilities for managing accidental contact with lyngbya and train workers in first aid procedures.

If you work in marine industries and your workers have to go into affected water, provide suitable PPE such as wet suits, stinger suits, dive booties, gloves and safety eyewear.

If you work in beach cleaning operations for lyngbya, you should:

  • use vehicles with enclosed cabins, with the air on internal recirculation where possible
  • keep the lyngbya material damp or wet before and during operations
  • secure and cover lyngbya loads prior to transport
  • stay upwind of the lyngbya where possible
  • provide workers with suitable PPE to prevent skin and eye contact, including enclosed footwear, long sleeves and pants, gloves and safety eyewear
  • provide workers with a fit tested particulate respirator where there is a risk of inhaling dried lyngbya material, for example, a disposable half facepiece P2 respirator is suitable.

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business, and you should review your control measures regularly.

You can read more about the circumstances when work health and safety laws require you to review your risk controls.

What to do if a worker is exposed to lyngbya

If a worker has inhaled, ingested or had skin or eye contact with lyngbya, you need to provide first aid. Wash areas of the body that have had contact with lyngbya with soap and water as soon as possible to remove any residual material. If eye contact has occurred, flush the eyes thoroughly with clean water or a saline solution.

Remove any clothing, for example, swimwear and wet suits, that could be trapping lyngbya. A cool compress may provide some relief from skin irritation.

You should seek medical attention if:

  • the eyes are affected
  • the extent and severity of irritation is causing concern
  • the person complains of respiratory discomfort after swimming in affected water or breathing in dried lyngbya material, particularly if they have an existing respiratory condition such as asthma.

Read more about first aid and emergency plans.

Standards and compliance

Work Health and Safety Act 2011

Codes of Practice

How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)