Asbestos, fallen powerlines, fallen or damaged trees and unstable structures are among the risks to health and safety facing those working on fire-affected properties.
Employers and property owners in areas where it was safe to return need to take time to fully consider the risks involved in each task before commencing any clean-up activities.
Occupational health and safety 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 was a common building material up until the late 1980s, so fire-affected workplaces, including farms, need to manage this risk carefully.
Anyone who is unsure whether a fire-damaged building contains asbestos should engage an occupational hygienist to inspect the site. If asbestos is found to be present, it needs to be removed by a licensed removalist.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said people needed to carefully plan clean-up work.
"Cleaning up after a fire poses a set of risks that you may not be expecting, so we urge anyone who is unsure of how to handle a particular hazard, to seek advice," she said.
WorkSafe is also in the process of identifying any injured workers and employers impacted by the bushfires to ensure they are receiving appropriate support.
Any worker or employer requiring help with a claim or assistance can also call the WorkSafe Advisory line on 1800 136 089
Further information about fire affected asbestos and other fire related occupational health and safety hazards can be found at https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/bushfires