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Managing risks when working near bushfires.

The fire season is now upon us in many regions around the country, and it is, of course, of critical importance that businesses have measures in place to manage a range of associated risks, along with being equipped to deal with emergencies.

The events of the previous fire season will not be quickly forgotten, and when it comes to working in potentially hazardous conditions – from working near bushfires, to working in air pollution – employee health and safety needs to be a priority. Being prepared and planning ahead is key, and it is important to stay up to date about what is happening in different areas, utilising the range of information available, including Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts and warnings.

Fire Hazard Reduction: The Arborist’s Role

Of course, arborists have an important role to play in fire hazard reduction, helping property owners to mitigate risks, conducting tree risk and vegetation assessments, and then determining the most appropriate course of action.

There are a range of factors that arborists will need to take into account in weighing   up both risk factors, including the species, age, spacing and positioning of trees, and the remedial actions that need to be taken, such as pruning or loping, or removing a  tree altogether.

In addition to this, grass slashing is an important factor in helping to reduce the risk of fires spreading, and similarly, targeted shrub and vegetation management may also need to be undertaken.

For this reason, it is important that arborists have an understanding of how fire spreads and the risks posed, and it is also an occupation that can potentially bring those involved into close proximity of bushfires.

Meanwhile, following a fire, arborists also have a role to play, including assessing tree and vegetation damage, along with undertaking tree risk assessments, and helping with recovery and planning efforts.

“It is important that arborists have an understanding of how fire spreads and the risks posed.”

Managing Fire Risks

As advised by Safe Work Australia (SWA), it is important to be aware of any bushfires near your work area, and to follow instructions and advice from emergency services, ensuring you can evacuate the area if required.

When it comes to working near bushfires, SWA advises that the following measures should be observed:

  • Remain vigilant and immediately report any smoke or fires you see
  • Workplaces must prepare and inform workers of procedures to be taken in the event of an emergency
  • If working alone, ensure you have a means of communication, such as a  mobile phone, with you at all times, while when working remotely, or in an isolated place, workplaces must ensure employees can be contacted and receive assistance  in an emergency
  • Ensure work being undertaken does not increase the risk of starting or intensifying bushfires (including ensuring proper maintenance of carriers of flammable chemicals and liquids, such as fuel, minimising the risk of unintentional leakage, along with correct disposal of litter).

Meanwhile, air pollution needs to be monitored as it can present a serious risk during bushfire events, and can impact worker health and the ability to carry out duties.

As advised by SWA, it is important to check your jurisdiction’s air quality index, with dust and smoke having the potential to reduce air quality and impact visibility, settle onto equipment and impact the functioning of plant and grip of surfaces, and irritate the airway, nose and eyes.

SWA advises that workplaces must have measures in place to manage risks to health and safety when air quality is reduced, such as rescheduling work until conditions improve, using personal protective equipment such as eye protection, and ensuring plant is functioning correctly and has not been affected by dust or debris.

Further info can be found at the SWA website www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au

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