Bushfire recovery: Guidelines for the management of bushfire waste at landfill sites

This guidance can help employers operating licensed landfill sites control risks from the clean-up and disposal of bushfire waste containing asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Date last updated

Thursday 23 Jan 2020

Industries and topics
  • Waste and recycling
  • Asbestos
  • Bushfires
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1. Background

Bushfire waste is material associated with burnt buildings and structures being cleaned-up after bushfires. The waste is typically concrete, bricks and associated rubble which has been exposed to very high temperatures. Waste material going to landfill sites should have had metal removed as far as practicable during the clean-up operations. Other waste material associated with the bushfires, such as green waste or trees, should be disposed of at local municipal council facilities.

Controlling risks

All waste received from properties burnt by bushfire must be treated as potentially contaminated with asbestos. For example, bushfire waste may contain damaged material such as asbestos cement sheeting. This means that only facilities licensed by the Environment Protection Authority to receive asbestos can accept bushfire waste, unless a person with the appropriate skills and knowledge has thoroughly inspected the material and can determine there is no asbestos contamination.

You should also assume that bushfire waste may contain other hazardous materials. Properties damaged by fire may contain products of combustion, heavy metals, damaged containers of hazardous substances or dangerous goods.

Minimising airborne dust

Most of the risk to landfill employees from bushfire waste is through inhaling hazardous airborne dust. Accordingly, this document aims to provide guidance on the duty to control the risk during the disposal of bushfire waste at landfill sites by minimising dust generation, so far as is reasonably practicable. Because asbestos is assumed to be present, employers must eliminate or reduce exposure to the dust, so far as is reasonably practicable. There are specific duties in relation to controlling exposure to asbestos. WorkSafe's Compliance code: Managing asbestos in workplaces has information about controlling exposure to asbestos and is available on the WorkSafe website.

Compliance code: Managing asbestos in workplaces

Procedures at landfill sites depend on the way bushfire waste is transported into the site. All waste entering the landfill site should have been suitably dampened to minimise airborne dust generation and double wrapped in thick plastic sheeting, for example, 0.2mm thick builder's plastic, sealed along all edges and transported in an appropriate vehicle.

The Environment Protection Authority's website provides guidance about vehicle and driver requirements for the transport of waste materials.

Environment Protection Authority

2. Site management

  • Vehicles entering the landfill site should have their loads covered until unloading within the designated area. Landfill employees may temporarily remove covers to inspect waste before unloading.
  • Each landfill site must have signs indicating the designated areas for bushfire waste disposal.
  • Only the vehicle driver and landfill site employees directly involved in the bushfire waste unloading process should be allowed in the designated areas.
  • Vehicle drivers disposing of waste should remain in their vehicles with windows up.
  • Dust suppression systems such as sprinklers should be in place to keep bushfire waste material dampened during the entire process while ensuring no runoff occurs. These systems should be continually reviewed and, if necessary, enhanced, particularly in high-wind conditions, to ensure the unloading of bushfire waste is controlled adequately.
  • Ensure bushfire waste is covered at the end of each day with clean soil at a thickness of between 150mm and 300mm. Before compaction, cover bushfire waste with a layer of waste that is at least 1 metre thick and not impacted by bushfire or asbestos. Ensure bushfire waste is not deposited within 2 metres of the final tipping surface of the landfill.
  • All landfill site plant used to manage the bushfire waste and capping should have enclosed cabins with appropriate air filter systems. If plant does not have an enclosed cabin, ensure the plant operator wears appropriate PPE. All plant must be decontaminated or, where reasonably practicable, placed in a sealed container before leaving the designated area. Landfill employees operating plant which does not have an enclosed cabin must also undergo a decontamination process before they leave the designated area, refer Section 5.

3. Unloading vehicles such as tippers or tray vehicles in the designated bushfire waste area

  • Drivers should be instructed to remain in their vehicles while disposing of bushfire waste in the designated area.
  • All drivers should be instructed to have their windows shut during tipping operations.
  • Dust must be suppressed during the tipping operation. Dust suppression may be achieved by the use of sprinklers.
  • Landfill site employees will use appropriate plant/equipment to unload bushfire waste from vehicles such as utes or trailers. Bushfire waste should be wrapped in double plastic and sealed.
  • It is important landfill site employees working at the designated site wear appropriate PPE, refer Section 5.

4. Decontamination of vehicles leaving the site

  • Vehicles should be washed after they have disposed of their load and before leaving the landfill site to remove any waste residue from the vehicle's tray and body.
  • Establish a vehicle washdown area at each landfill site within the landfill cell footprint to ensure any residue is removed from the vehicle tray and body. Collect runoff from vehicles in the cell’s drainage system.

5. PPE requirements and decontamination of landfill employees

  • Employers operating landfills must establish appropriate decontamination procedures where bushfire waste is to be disposed of.
  • Landfill employees must wear disposable coveralls such as Tyveks, respiratory protection of at least P1 or P2 rating (AS/NZS 1716 certified) and laceless safety boots or safety gumboots when within the designated areas and during disposal operations. Disposable masks should be regularly replaced if they become damaged, moist or contaminated. Good hygiene practices should be followed.
  • All plant/equipment must be decontaminated before leaving the designated area.
  • Before leaving the bushfire waste designated area for meal breaks or at the end of the workday, landfill employees must undergo a decontamination process where they remove disposable coveralls, change or clean footwear and change into clean clothes.
  • Employers must ensure all employees at the bushfire waste landfill site are appropriately instructed and trained by a person with the appropriate knowledge and skills on the correct use of PPE, site decontamination procedures and the specific hazards associated with bushfire waste.
  • Employers should provide designated break areas that are isolated from exposure to dust.
  • Never eat, drink or smoke in or near work areas.

6. Monitoring of landfill sites accepting bushfire waste

  • Landfill operators must regularly inspect bushfire waste landfill sites to ensure good standards of housekeeping are maintained and that the dust suppression systems are appropriate. Inspections should be recorded and records retained.
  • Employers must implement a safe system of work for ensuring dust is effectively suppressed at the landfill site. The system of work may include a program of regular, ongoing air monitoring for airborne dust concentrations and asbestos fibre concentrations at the perimeter and where workers are likely to be exposed to dust from the landfill operation. Air monitoring is required where there is uncertainty about whether the asbestos fibre exposure standard has been exceeded. Air monitoring should be carried out by an occupational hygienist.