• Open Access

Personal observations over a period of about three years of air blowers used to ‘clean’ school buildings


  • Alan Purcell

Correspondence to: Dr Alan Purcell, 10A Greenock Avenue, Como, WA 6152; e-mail: purcellae@aapt.net.au

Parents, especially those whose children suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions, should be aware that petrol-powered air blowers (also called leaf blowers) have been used to ‘clean’ the corridors inside the buildings of a large secondary school in suburban Perth, and possibly in other government schools in Western Australia (WA). I became aware of this when I was employed as a part-time gardener in November 2008 at that school. I was told that the use of blowers as cleaning tools had been going on for years. The blowers used produced powerful jets of air which blew dirt and dust into the atmosphere and redistributed material within the buildings. Partly opened louvred windows allowed suspended material to enter classrooms. The school has extensive grounds and it is not unreasonable to suggest that plant material, soil, fertiliser, dog and bird faeces, and so on, may have been brought into the corridors where large numbers of students assemble.

I have a range of photographs which I believe clearly show the capacity of air blowers to contaminate a building.

In her article, ‘Asbestos a School Fear’, in Perth's Sunday Times 1 May 2011, Yasmine Phillips stated that 147 schools in WA have problems with asbestos “which require attention”. Air blowers are used for ‘aggressive’ testing for asbestos fibres inside buildings, because of their capacity to suspend asbestos fibres in the air. They are dangerous when used as ‘cleaning’ tools in the presence of degraded asbestos or in the event that asbestos fibres might be inadvertently imported into a school from home renovations or from asbestos dumped on school grounds.

Putting children at increased risk (however slight) through using air blowers inside a building is, in my opinion, totally unwarranted and unethical.

Soon after I started work at the school I phoned WorkSafe on several occasions and asked for their advice on the use of air blowers used in corridors inside school buildings. I was told the practice was safe, provided it was done before children arrived at the school each morning.

About three weeks after a visit to the school by a WorkSafe inspector, which I requested, the blowers were again in use on the 27 May 2010. I wrote to the Minister for Education and she replied that blowers were not permitted “in any enclosed area”, and that a letter had been written by the business manager to the cleaners instructing them accordingly. I asked several cleaners if they had received such a letter, all said they had not.

During the period when I worked at the school it was not uncommon to see apparently unsupervised students using air blowers in the school grounds, and sometimes playing with the machines and blowing air and dust at each other.

A senior cleaner showed me a manual from a ‘Cleaning staff induction workshop’, produced by the Department of Education in 2010. Nowhere in the 46 pages of detailed advice to cleaners is it stated that blowers should not be used inside school buildings. A picture in the manual showed a cleaner ‘blowing’ a floor inside a building. If it was the intention of the workshop to inform cleaning staff of the dangers of using blowers in school buildings, this was not reflected in the manual – it was advice to the contrary, in the opinion of the cleaner.

The school where I worked was recognised by the Asthma Foundation as an ‘Asthma Friendly School’ while the blowers were polluting the building. The best possible air quality is recognised as central to the needs of all children, especially those with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

In my opinion, the deliberate pollution of the environment, and the failure of the duty of care owed to children in these circumstances, constitutes child abuse.