Managing the risks working near bushfires
Bushfires may pose health and safety risks to workers. Exposure to heat, fire and smoke from bushfires can cause injuries, illness and death. Everyone at the workplace, including workers, should remain vigilant and be prepared to act.
As a PCBU, you must eliminate the risk of bushfires in the workplace, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.
A risk assessment will assist you to:
- identify the bushfire hazard and other associated hazards (including bushfire smoke)
- assess the risk of bushfires
- determine the most effective controls measures to manage the risks in your workplace, and
- review hazards and control measures to ensure they are working.
Further information on conducting a risk assessment can be found in the Model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.
To assist you in undertaking your risk assessment, you should monitor the bushfire situation in the local area you work in, especially if you work in a bushfire prone area like bushland, grassland, woodland, or near the coast.
All states and territories have now implemented nationally consistent fire danger ratings and warning systems:
- the Australian Fire Danger Ratings System (AFDRS) provides information about the risks of bushfires in the local area, and
- the Australian Warning System (AWS) provides warnings during emergencies such as bushfires.
For more information on how the fire danger rating and warnings issued by your state or territory’s local fire authority can be used as part of the risk assessment process, see the information sheet.
You must prepare and inform your workers of any procedures or processes that you put in place in the event of a bushfire.
If you have workers working alone, ensure they have a means of communication with you at all times (e.g. a mobile phone). If your workers work remotely or in an isolated place, you must ensure they be able to access help in an emergency.
Don’t add to the bushfire risk
Don’t increase the risk of starting bushfires or making them worse, particularly when working in fire prone areas. Ensure you:
- Properly maintain flammable chemical and liquid carriers, such as fuel, to minimise the risk of unintentional leakage onto the ground.
- Dispose of litter correctly, particularly cigarette butts and glass.
- Ensure you don’t use equipment that could generate sparks or flames near combustible material, like grass or trees.
- Follow the rules of Total Fire Ban or No Burn days in your state or territory - your local fire authority website will have more information specific to your state or territory.
If it’s not safe to work
A worker has the right to stop unsafe work if there’s a serious risk to their health and safety and should tell their employer when its unsafe to work.
- Notify you as soon as possible.
- Be available to do suitable alternative work to reduce or eliminate the risk of exposure to the smoke.
Health and safety representatives (HSR) can direct a worker to stop unsafe work if the worker’s health and safety is at serious risk. The HSR must try to resolve the issue with you, as the PCBU, first.
Safe Work Australia resources
- Identifying and assessing the risks of bushfires at work using fire danger ratings and warnings information sheet
- Bushfire smoke in the workplace
- Information for PCBUs about working safely in bushfire smoke.
- Information about working safely in bushfire smoke for workers.
- Step by step instructions on how to fit and wear a P2/N95 mask when around bushfires.
Bushfire related WHS guidance from states and territories
- Commonwealth - Bushfire hazards | Comcare
- New South Wales - SafeWork NSW’s SeasonalSAFE guidance
- South Australia - Bushfire planning tips for businesses | SafeWork SA
- Victoria - Bushfires | WorkSafe Victoria
- Tasmania – Bushfires – WorkSafe Tasmania
- Australian Capital Territory - Storms, floods and bushfires - WorkSafe ACT