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Carbon-dioxide monitors and air purifiers the new tools of trade for our teachers

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Queensland teachers will be furnished with carbon dioxide monitors and air purifiers in place of a statewide check on classroom air conditioners to ensure they are compliant with the government’s own Covid safe protocols.

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The plan was revealed in budget estimates last week as summer approaches and a pandemic remains unrestrained, prompting questions if it is safe to breathe in Queensland’s air conditioned classrooms.

Education Minister Grace Grace is confident Queensland has the best ventilated schools in Australia, but cannot break down how many classrooms have split or ducted air conditioners out of the 50,000 appliances installed across the state.

Shadow Education Minister Christian Rowan says the ducted unit is the better option, because they draw in clean air from outside rather than recirculating old air.

When he pressed for an answer on the ratio of split systems to ducted systems in Queensland from Grace and the Department of Education’s director-general Michael De’Ath, the minister replied:

“The department knows the units that are out there. They just do not have the exact number.”

De’Ath said the department had engaged a consultant engineering firm to conduct ventilation assessments in classrooms and staff rooms during Covid.

As of July 20 this year, just 102 units had been the subject of investigation, with 50 physical assessments completed, 43 scheduled and an additional nine requested.

De’Ath said the process was not a comprehensive state wide audit but a “risk minimisation approach”, based on need.

He said the assessments considered natural and mechanical ventilation options and recommended necessary adjustments to improve cross-flow ventilation and air quality.

He said air purifiers would be made available for installation in classrooms and staff rooms if ventilation needs improving.

He said carbon dioxide monitors and guidance materials would also be provided to all Queensland state schools to assist staff in assessing air quality in classrooms.

Grace said any new school buildings constructed included ventilation that enabled free flowing air from outside the room.

“If there are issues, we will go in and obviously conduct a more comprehensive audit,” Grace said.

“My understanding is that most of the units are pretty big. I took a photo recently at Nundah State School. They are pretty big units. They draw in fresh air. I do not have a breakdown because we do not have it here.”

Rowan told InQueensland he had no confidence that the state government fully understood its own program.

“Air conditioners are more than just keeping rooms cool or warm, they play a vital role in keeping air of a quality that doesn’t allow for the transmission of airborne viruses like Covid or other unintended consequences,” he said.

“And right now, by the minister’s own admission, we don’t know how many air conditioning systems are operating at a level that aligns to the department’s own guidelines that air must be drawn from outside to maintain a Covid safe environment.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said that at the request of Grace, the department convened a working group with representatives from the Queensland education sector to identify ventilation strategies within schools to assist with the prevention of the spread of Covid-19.

They said working group considered expert advice from health authorities, Safe Work Australia, the World Health Organisation, the Doherty Institute and actions taken by other states and territories.

“The department relies on the advice of technical experts to determine the appropriate type of air conditioning system to be installed with all air conditioning units meeting the relevant Australian Standards,” the spokesperson said.

 

 

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