Bushfire recovery: Using equipment or machinery after bushfire

The unsafe use of mobile and powered plant after a bushfire can put you and other people at risk of injury. Guidance on this page provides basic safety advice for using mobile and powered equipment after a bushfire.


Safe operation

  • Ensure you use the appropriate equipment for the task.
  • Before you start, make sure you are familiar with how to safely handle and operate the equipment.
  • Your equipment supplier or equipment hire company must:
    • ensure the plant is safe and without risks to health
    • provide you with written safe-use/operating instructions that explain how to safely operate the equipment
    • provide advice relating to personal protective equipment (PPE) that should be worn, for example, safety glasses, gloves and face masks

Site safety considerations

Working on a site where there has been a bushfire can present a range of new or unique hazards that even those familiar with the area may not have previously encountered. It is important to investigate and identify hazards in the area where you are working.

  • Are there electrical services overhead or electrical, gas, water, cable internet or other services underground?
  • Is the ground stable and clear of debris for yourself and the equipment?
  • Is the slope of the ground too steep to safely operate mobile equipment?
  • Are there slip or tripping hazards?
  • Is your area restricted in terms of adequate space to work or manoeuvre or to provide adequate ventilation?
  • Will your activity create risks to you or others, for example, collapse of structures, trees falling, roll-over of equipment?
  • Can work be performed at ground level instead of at height? If not, have you followed the hierarchy of controls for working at height?

Hierarchy of controls for the prevention of falls

  1. Eliminate the risk of working at height by doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  2. If you cannot eliminate the risk, reduce the remaining risk by using a passive fall prevention device, for example, scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, elevating work platforms, safety mesh.
  3. Reduce remaining risk by using a work-positioning system, for example travel-restraint systems, industrial rope-access systems.
  4. Reduce remaining risk by using fall-arrest systems, such as catch platforms, fall arrest-harness systems
  5. Reduce remaining risk by using a ladder or implement an administrative control. Note: Ladders are not suitable for long duration or high- force tasks. Record keeping duties apply for employers using administrative-only controls.

Safety of others

  • Are other people at risk of injury from your activity?
  • Have you sufficiently prevented others, including children, from entering the immediate area of work, for example, the fall zone during tree felling, loading and unloading and excluding access to any area where powered mobile plant is operating?

People in rural areas often work alone, particularly on farms. WorkSafe has guidance which can help reduce the risks from working alone on farms.

Safe use of equipment and machinery

Safe use of chainsaws

The main risk associated with the use of chainsaws is kickbacks – a sudden upwards and backwards movement of the chainsaw. Kickbacks occur when the upper section and tip of the chainsaw comes into contact with a log, branch etc. Avoid such contact during use.

Other factors to consider:

  • Check with the supplier to ensure the chainsaw is the appropriate type/size for the intended task.
  • Check the chainsaw to ensure the bar, chain and sprockets are in good condition, bar oil is flowing and the chain is sharp.
  • Ensure the chainsaw is fitted with a chain brake that is clean and operates effectively.
  • When not in use, carry the chainsaw with the engine off, muffler away from the operator’s body and the saw blade pointing to the rear.
  • Assess the risk of falling debris. For example, look out for loose branches etc. that may be released once material below it is cut and ensure material is not under tension that may cause it to spring up and hit you.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), for example, face shield or visor, earmuffs, safety boots, protective leggings and gloves.
  • Hold the chainsaw securely with two hands and ensure both feet are firmly positioned.
  • Ensure you have enough clear space to manoeuvre.
  • Identify an escape route from the falling tree if required.
  • Do not cut anything with the chainsaw above shoulder height.
  • Ensure that an exclusion zone is established to prevent others from coming into contact with the chainsaw or debris.

Safe use of skid-steer loaders

Risks associated with skid steers include colliding with people, overturning, loads falling from the bucket into the cabin and injuries from exiting the machine with the bucket raised.

Factors to take into account when using a skid steer:

  • Ensure the machine is always turned off and the attachment is lowered before entering or exiting.
  • Ensure all safety devices, such as safety bars and reversing alarms, are fitted and functioning before operating the skid-steer loader.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the operation of the machine and the controls before starting work.
  • Keep people away from loading and unloading areas and the path between the loading and unloading spaces.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including safety glasses and ear muffs.
  • Use a spotter to check your blind spots while the skid steer loader is being used.

The WorkSafe website has more information about controlling risks from skid-steer loaders.

Safe use of mini-diggers (excavators)

The main risk associated with the use of a mini-digger is overturning the machine through incorrect operation on slopes or near excavations. Care must be taken when operating a mini-digger on a slope to ensure the machine does not become unstable, and subsequently overturn, due to unbalanced loads.

Factors to take into account when using a mini-digger:

  • Ensure you are instructed and trained to use the digger before starting work.
  • Where roll-over protection and a seatbelt is fitted, always wear the seatbelt while operating the mini-digger.
  • Familiarise yourself with the controls before starting work.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instruction to determine the maximum allowable slope on which the mini-digger can be operated.
  • Always travel up and down the slope with the tracks pointing up and down the slope, never along the slope.
  • When travelling up or down the slope, keep the boom arm extended and the bucket close to the ground.
  • Assess the weight distribution of the plant before moving onto a slope to ensure the heaviest end is higher up the slope.
  • Do not attempt to turn the mini-digger around on a slope.
  • Operate controls smoothly to prevent sudden stopping or bucking.
  • Always carry the load and bucket as close to the ground as possible.
  • Do not overload the digger, bucket or attachment.
  • Only use the mini-digger for the purpose for which it was designed, not for pulling or pushing down trees.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Ensure other people are not located in your work area.
  • Use a spotter to check your blind spots while the mini-digger is being used.

Bushfire recovery

This information is part of a suite of information about bushfire recovery. Find more information from about this topic on the main bushfires collection page.

All bushfire information