In Australia, fire danger ratings are not just numbers; they are a lifeline for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of individuals and the sustainability of businesses across various industries. As climate change continues to exacerbate the wildfire threat, proactive WHS measures, emergency planning, and employee education are more critical than ever.

What are fire danger ratings?

In September 2022, there was a national Australian Fire Danger Rating system introduced. Previously, there were different rating systems being used across Australia. This nationally consistent system was designed on extensive scientific and community research. 

The current Fire Danger Ratings have 4 levels: Moderate, High, Extreme and Catastrophic.

Where there is minimal risk on any day, ‘no rating’ is used.

The Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS) has a good Factsheet available to explain the ratings: AFDRS Factsheet

How does this impact business owners?

Fire hazards and dangers that could compromise employee safety must be mitigated by employers. Where there are any organisational procedures which refer to fire danger ratings, these should be updated. It may also be appropriate to conduct a refresher training session for relevant personnel or emergency control organisations.

When developing procedures for emergency situations, the business should factor in what action may be taken in based on the fire danger rating, if they are working in a higher risk environment. For example, a tourism centre, operating a remote office in bushland with limited access in and out of the area may consider having an Emergency Plan with different actions in place, depending on the fire danger rating. The plan of action on catastrophic days may be to close that office and site, and operate from a safer location, for example.

Other factors to consider when reviewing potential risks associated with fire danger ratings is:

  • The risk of heat related issues to workers and others in the workplace
  • The risk of travelling to and from the workplace if there is a fire nearby or road closures
  • Workers wanting to stay home and protect their house, or needing to evacuate on the orders of authorities and not coming to shift (staffing levels affected)
  • Authorities officially closing areas or roads due to the risks associated with the fire potential
  • In schools, community, aged or disability care etc – whether it would be possible to evacuate a large group of vulnerable participants at the last minute, or if it is safer to pre-empt a bushfire and move out individuals in advance of a catastrophic fire rating.

Contingency plans should be worked into an emergency plan to manage these risks.

Consultation with workers, any representatives and local fire authorities is recommended when developing emergency plans.

Image from AFDRS: https://afdrs.com.au/ 25/09/2023.

Bushfire Season and Bushfire Prone Land

Each state and territory has its own defined bush fire season, defined by start and finish dates, in accordance with the law. These are usually declared by the authorities each year and can change depending on the forecast.  Check your state or territory emergency services / fire services department for specific dates.

It is important to know your site risk and make emergency plans based around the level of potential bushfire risk applicable to that location. If the site/workplace is in a high-risk area, more stringent emergency plans must be developed.

Many workers live and work from home in high fire danger areas, workers in these scenarios must also have appropriate emergency plans developed with consideration for bushfire in place, and be trained in what to do in the event of an emergency.

The table below lists typical bushfire seasons across Australia, and a link for checking whether an address is in bushfire prone land. These links can be used to assess workplace risks, and work from home risks.

STATE

BUSHFIRE SEASON

BUSHFIRE PRONE LAND CHECK

NSW

1st of October to 31 March

RFS Bush fire prone land check

ACT

1st October to 31 March

ACTmapi Bushfire Prone Areas

VIC

CFA declares various fire danger periods (FDP) for different zones. CFA Fire Restriction dates by Municipality

VIC Plan Map

QLD

July to October (and can extend to February depending on conditions)

QFES Post Code Checker

WA

Northern WA: June to October

Southern WA: October to April

DFES Bushfire Prone Areas Map

TAS

October to March

RiskReady Map

NT

March to December (Dry Season)

Fire Protection Zones

SA

November/December to March/April depending on area.

LocationSA Map Viewer – bushfire risk

Work Health and Safety Legal Requirements

When considering how to plan for bushfires, some key factors come into play. This includes:

  1. Protecting the health and safety workers and others in the workplace:

The absolute first thing to think of is how to eliminate or greatly reduce the risk of anyone being injured or killed in a bushfire emergency. The risk assessment the employer completes should identify that bushfire risks can easily equate to a very high or catastrophic risk rating when the risk of death or permanent injury is factored in. The risk assessment should include the risk of psychological impacts as well.

 

  1. Emergency Planning:

Employers should have robust emergency plans in place, which account for bushfire danger. These plans should outline evacuation procedures, communication protocols, and designated assembly points.

 

  1. Training and Education:

It is vital to train workers on emergency procedures and the significance of fire danger ratings. Educated and informed workers are more likely to make the right decisions in potentially dangerous situations. Annual training for employees on company emergency procedures is required. An annual (or more frequent) evacuation drill is mandatory. Consider including fire equipment / extinguisher training to your annual training plan.

 

  1. Monitoring Conditions:

Regularly checking fire danger ratings, weather forecasts, and local fire updates is crucial for maintaining a safe working environment. Employers must stay vigilant and adapt their plans as conditions change.

 

  1. Equipment and Resources:

Providing adequate firefighting equipment and resources, such as fire extinguishers, hoses, signage and communication equipment (e.g. walkie talkies and loud speakers), can make a significant difference in controlling situations.

 

  1. Post-Incident Support:

Every emergency plan should have information on how the business will provide debriefing and post-incident management support to workers and others impacted by any emergency or bushfire incident. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a useful resource to have engaged if/when a situation occurs, so workers can access the service on their own accord, or the company may engage the EAP provider to consult with workers in a group scenario.

Conclusion

In recent years Australia has experienced devastating bushfires. Many workers have had personal experiences and trauma associated with the impacts of bushfire. It is important to respect each person’s experiences and factor this in when planning is taking place.

Every workplace will have a different requirement when it comes to their emergency plan, and if bushfire is a potential risk to the workplace, including workers in a work from home situation, then appropriate procedures must be included in the plan.

If you would like any support in relation to your work health and safety system and emergency planning, please contact Evolve Safety.

About Employment Innovations

Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, workplace safety, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.

 

Disclaimer

The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.

 

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