By Michael Selinger
With the increasing heat and raging bushfires across the country, it is an important time to stop and assess the adequacy of your organisation’s emergency plans in response to a bushfire.
For businesses that operate in bushfire-prone areas, it is essential to have a bushfire safety plan in place to ensure the health and safety of your workers. A bushfire safety plan can be included as part of an overall emergency management plan.
Understanding how a bushfire behaves is critical to ensuring your workers’ health and safety.
A bushfire spreads as a result of burning embers, radiant heat and direct flame contact, and its ferocity and speed is exacerbated by the wind, terrain, temperature and vegetation. As stated in the final report from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, ‘all fires are different in ways that require an awareness of fire conditions, local circumstances and personal capacity’.
Undertaking a risk assessment to determine the risk of a bushfire to your operations is the first step in ensuring the safety of your workers and your business.
For your risk assessment, it is important to note that a bushfire:
- burns faster uphill and as it increases its speed it increases its intensity;
- is fuelled by vegetation including grass and dry branches that burn easily and quickly;
- often starts on hot, dry and windy days as hot weather dries out vegetation thereby making it easier to burn;
- is provided with oxygen from wind increasing its intensity; and
- can change direction as a result of the wind – this is one of the most dangerous influences on a bushfire’s behaviour.
You should also take into account that key areas of risk for workers may include:
- workers in buildings near grassland, for example open grassland, parks, paddocks or reserves;
- workers exposed to potential grass fires in rural areas, as these fires can travel up to 25km per hour; and
- workers at risk of being in a car during a bushfire, as being in a car where there is a fire in the area can be extremely dangerous and such exposure to radiant heat can result in serious injury or death.
Your emergency management plan should address specific procedures which take into account these variables, in the event your business is subject to a bushfire threat.
It is therefore essential to understand your business and revise your approach, policies, procedures and plans to ensure bushfire safety. You should work with your local community and municipal council to develop bushfire plans in respect of evacuation, facilities and shelter in your community.