Bushfire response and recovery information

WorkSafe urges Victorians to be alert to hidden hazards in the wake of the recent devastating fires.

Date last updated

Wednesday 15 Jan 2020

Industries and topics
  • Bushfires
  • Hazardous manual handling
  • Hazardous substances

Bushfire response and recovery

Fire damaged buildings and properties can pose unique and unexpected risks to the health and safety of workers who undertake clean-up and recovery operations.

Planning and preparation are vital to determine the safest method for the required work.

Before commencing any clean-up activities on fire-affected properties employers and property owners need to take time to fully assess the risks of each task and how best to remove or mitigate those risks.

Anyone who is unsure of how to handle a particular hazard is urged to seek advice.

Employer's responsibility

Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace for their workers and this includes the potential impact of smoke haze. Advice on air quality can be found on the Vic Emergency website.

Employers should review the use of air-conditioning to minimise the impact of the smoke on workers.

Potential workplace hazards

Hazards that may arise after fires include:

  • Unstable trees and overhanging branches, which have been weakened by heat and fire.
  • Fallen powerlines, or damaged internal wiring, which may be live.
  • Unstable structures, such as free-standing chimneys and fire damaged retaining walls or underground water tanks, concrete septic tanks and pits which may be at risk of collapse.
  • LP gas tanks and cylinders, which may have been damaged by fire and heat.
  • Decomposing livestock and wildlife that may present biohazards.
  • Asbestos containing materials which have been ruptured or damaged, causing fibres to become exposed.
  • Asbestos which has crumbled (that is, become friable) due to exposure to extreme heat.

Asbestos

  • The chances that asbestos containing material will be present in fire-affected buildings and farms are high as it was a common building material up until the late 1980s.
  • Asbestos was commonly used in flat or corrugated cement sheets, for example in the roof, walls, ceiling, and eaves and was common in bathrooms, toilets, and laundries. Property fences may also be constructed from asbestos containing material.
  • All burnt asbestos containing material should be considered friable. Fire can breakdown asbestos containing material, causing it to crumble and release asbestos fibres into the air, which pose a risk to the health of anyone exposed.
  • Anyone who is unsure whether a fire-damaged building contains asbestos should engage an occupational hygienist to inspect the site before beginning any clean-up.
  • If friable asbestos is present at a workplace it must to be removed by a licensed removalist.
  • Anyone who has concerns about fire affected asbestos or other fire-related occupational health and safety hazards, can contact the WorkSafe Advisory line on 1800 136 089.

Claims handling

  • WorkSafe is taking proactive action to ensure injured workers impacted by the fires continue to receive the support they need, including ongoing payments and medical support.
  • There will be some existing injured workers whose ability to access treatment and entitlements may be compromised by the fires.
  • There will also be some employers whose business have been impacted and may be unable to pay injured workers.
  • WorkSafe is also working with emergency services to ensure support is being provided to personnel who may have been injured fighting the fires.
  • Plans are in place to immediately alleviate these issues. Any worker or employer requiring help with a claim can contact their managing agent or the WorkSafe Advisory line on 1800 136 089.