Contractors working in the vicinity of fire-damaged trees

WorkSafe is issuing a warning to employers and self-employed persons to take extreme care when working in the vicinity of fire-damaged trees, following a recent incident where an employee died after a tree fell on him.
Safety alert published

Tuesday 04 Feb 2020

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Background

An emergency services worker involved in fighting the recent bushfires died when a fire-damaged tree suddenly fell and landed on him.

Safety issues

Performing work at properties affected by bushfire can expose employers and employees to the risk of significant injury or death from fire-damaged trees.

After bushfires have passed through an area, trees may be unstable due to heat and fire and can fall without warning. Fallen branches may also be hooked up or tangled in other limbs and can be dislodged by wind, machinery or fire.

Recommended ways to control risks

Employers and self-employed persons should ensure that no work activity is undertaken if unsafe trees and branches are present on or near a worksite. Felling or trimming of unsafe trees and branches should only be performed by people with suitable skills and experience.

Where trees have been marked with a "K", an "X", or a yellow dot, employers and self-employed persons should ensure that no work is carried out on site until a suitably trained person, such as the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) or a trained arborist, manages the 'marked' trees.

A "K" marking refers to killer trees, which are trees or branches that are likely to fall. An "X" or yellow dot refers to trees that do not currently appear hazardous, but may become so if they catch alight or are impacted by wind or other disturbance.

If the marked trees cannot be managed, an appropriate exclusion zone needs to be in place before any works on the fire-affected site start.

Employers must provide employees with site-specific information relating to hazards, potential risks and the control measures that are in place.

Employers and self-employed persons should also:

  • ensure that any unmarked trees that appear hazardous, for example trees that are wholly or partly burnt or have split trunks, are assessed by a qualified or experienced person (such as an arborist) who can provide a report and advice regarding treatment of the tree
  • ensure that if an unmarked tree is suspected of being damaged or unsafe, an exclusion area of at least one tree length surrounding the tree is made clearly visible with tape, markers, flags, or cones
  • inspect worksites daily to ensure no new risks have arisen
  • ensure that mobile plant, motor vehicles and machinery are only used at a distance greater than one tree length from an unmarked fire-damaged tree due to the risk of the equipment weakening the tree through movement or vibration
  • ensure that employees wear helmets at the worksite
  • ensure that working alone is avoided or minimised

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors.

Employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Employers must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct.

Self-employed persons must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the self-employed person.

Further information