Make safety a priority after earthquake

Victorians need to be alert to the potential dangers to themselves and others after today’s magnitude 5.9 earthquake near Mansfield.
News article published

Wednesday 22 Sep 2021

With multiple reports of damage and aftershocks still possible, those undertaking immediate clean-up and recovery work are being urged to take time to identify and address the risks involved in each task before getting started.

For example, appropriate exclusion zones should be established around any unstable or partially collapsed buildings or structures until they can be inspected by a suitably qualified person.

Owners or occupiers concerned about asbestos containing materials potentially being ruptured or damaged should engage an occupational hygienist to inspect the site.

If damaged asbestos is found to be present, it may need to be assessed and if necessary removed by a licensed removalist.

WorkSafe Acting Executive Director of Health and Safety Andrew Keen said recovery work needed to be planned carefully.

"Earthquake clean-ups can pose 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 professional advice," Mr Keen said.

"The last thing we want is an injury because a few simple checks haven't been made."

Employers also need to be vigilant and make sure their workplaces are not posing any threat to workers or members of the public.

For the construction industry, this could be an extension of safe shutdown work underway in response to the latest restrictions to ensure the integrity of supporting structures, including temporary braced precast panels, safety screens, scaffolding, formwork and trenching.

Mr Keen said some employers would have to take added precautions, due to the nature of their business.

"If you know there are chemicals or other dangerous materials in your workplace, for example, make sure you or your workers are using appropriate protective gear upon entry," he said.

"Be aware that the contents of your building may have shifted and there could be hazards you wouldn't normally expect, like spilled liquids or damaged racking for stored goods."

Things to consider during earthquake clean-up and recovery include:

  • Before starting any task, take time to identify potential hazards and consider how to remove or mitigate the associated risks.
  • Ensure work is properly planned and coordinated with regular communication, sufficient supervision and regular rest breaks.
  • Only use equipment that is in good condition, fit for purpose and has appropriate guards in place.
  • Have appropriate personal protective equipment for each task (for example boots, gloves, eye and ear protection, hats, sun protective clothing and high visibility vests) and ensure it is worn correctly.
  • Ensure machinery and vehicle operators are competent and experienced in using specific equipment for the intended task.
  • Clear debris from areas where vehicles are operating, implement traffic management plans.
  • Use powered machinery for lifting large or heavy items.
  • Identify any likely asbestos containing materials or dangerous chemicals.
  • Ensure children are well supervised and away from areas where work is going on.