Asbestos, trees, powerlines pose risks after fires

Victorians affected by the recent devastating fires need to be aware of potential hazards as they commence clean-up and recovery efforts on farms and other properties.


Asbestos, fallen powerlines and fallen or damaged trees are among the risks posing a threat to the health and safety of those working on fire and wind affected sites.

WorkSafe Head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice, Michael Coffey, urged employers and property owners involved in clean-up operations to take a moment to consider the safety risks involved in each task before commencing it.

"We understand this is a very difficult time for many people, but fire affected sites come with their own set of risks that they may not be expecting," Mr Coffey said.

"We urge anyone who is unsure of the risks involved, or how to handle a particular hazard, to seek advice. The last thing anyone needs on a fire affected site is another incident," he said.

Occupational health and safety hazards that may arise after fires include:

  • 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
  • Unstable trees and overhanging branches, which have been weakened by heat and fire
  • Fallen powerlines, which may be live
  • Unstable structures, such as free-standing chimneys and fire damaged retaining walls, 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.

Mr Coffey said fire affected workplaces, including farms, would need to continue to manage asbestos carefully as they continued clean-up efforts.

"Asbestos was a common building material up until the late 1980s, so the chances that asbestos containing material will be found in many of the fire affected buildings are high," Mr Coffey said.

"Anyone on who is unsure whether a fire damaged building contains asbestos should engage an occupational hygienist to inspect the site and confirm if this is the case. If asbestos is found to be present at a workplace, it needs to be removed by a licensed removalist."

Those concerned about fire affected asbestos, or other fire related occupational health and safety hazards, can contact the WorkSafe Advisory line on 1800 136 089.