Category: WHS

Working in the Heat

Fatigue and heat stress are major causes of injury during the summer months. Heat stress or heat illness is a serious condition that can result in organ failure or death if work in hot conditions is not safety managed.

Fatigue and heat stress can reduce a worker’s performance and productivity, plus increase the chance of injury by reducing the ability to concentrate, recognise risks and communicate effectively.

During the hottest months, outdoor workers and those working in hot environments are the most at risk.

This is why everyone should keep an eye out for each other and work together to minimise the effect of heat.

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Safety Advice – Possible toxic canisters washed up on our beaches


Media Release – Dated 17th September 2015


Poison canister warning

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is warning members of the public of the potential dangers posed by toxic canisters that have been reported washing up on Australian beaches.

Since February 2012, emergency services have received reports from the public of small unlabelled canisters washing up along the coast in the Torres Strait, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.

In the last few months reports have been received of canisters washing up in the Western Cape York region and in Yeppoon in Central Queensland.

The canisters contain a rat poison known as ‘aluminium phosphide’, a white to grey solid which is hazardous to humans. When the canister is opened, the powder reacts with moisture in the air to release phosphine gas, which is also highly toxic to humans. The gas has a strong odour that can smell like garlic, rotting fish or urine, but it can quickly dull the sense of smell.

Exposure can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, dizziness, tightness of the chest, diarrhoea, fluid in the lungs, liver/kidney damage, and in severe cases death.

The gas is also flammable and can spontaneously ignite causing burns or small explosions.

Most aluminium phosphide is imported into Australia from China and Africa, and the unused nature of the canisters suggests they have come from an unreported shipping cargo loss sometime before February 2012.

Queensland and New South Wales Fire and Emergency services have dealt with over 40 canisters washed up since 2012.

AMSA will continue to monitor the situation and provide technical advice to local hazmat and emergency response services.

The canisters are silver in colour and approximately 22 centimetres tall. They have a tapered top with a screw in lid.

Although most canisters are airtight, there have been examples where the seals were broken, presenting a serious danger.

Canisters should not be moved or opened and any sightings should be reported to emergency services on 000.


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Health & Safety Alert – Portable Butane Cookers

NSW Fair Trading has issued on 04 March 2015 a Public warning on portable butane ‘lunchbox’ cookers that relates to safety issues with these specific cookers, including overheating.

1. All portable butane ‘lunchbox’ style cookers are to be immediately removed from service, labelled appropriately and quarantined.
2. No further purchasing of portable butane ‘lunchbox’ cookers is to occur for use within the NSW RFS until further notice.

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Is PROBAN® treated clothing a problem?

PROBAN® treated cotton has been in use by Australian emergency services agencies for in excess of thirty years without any significant issues or concerns being identified. The Australian Firefighters’ Health study provides some reassurance that records indicate the incidence of cancers associated with formaldehyde are not elevated for Australian firefighters.

What the testing conducted by the CSIRO has done is raise concerns about how the PPE is stored and handled. The unexpected issue is the amount of formaldehyde both retained and given-off by the PROBAN® treated cotton which is at levels outside the product manufacturers stated release levels. This warrants further investigation. AFAC will pursue this through the engagement of the AFAC PPE Technical Group.

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Working in a Hot Environment

It goes without saying that our firefighters cannot escape some degree of work in elevated / hot conditions. As firefighters we put a range of control measures in place including:

  • PPE / PPC that provides some degree of thermal protection.
  • A supply of drinking water is made available so that we can manage our hydration levels.
  • Training to improve awareness of potential heat injury and fatigue.
  • Training for our Crew Leaders to ensure that crews are provided with appropriate rest and hydration breaks.

What does WorkCover have to say about working in the heat?

Workers urged to stay safe in the heat


Temperatures are expected to soar into the 40s in many parts of the State tomorrow (14/11/2014) and over the weekend, prompting WorkCover NSW to remind businesses and workers to work safely in the heat.

Acting General Manager of WorkCover’s Work Health and Safety Division, Peter Dunphy said businesses and workers needed to take precautions when working in high temperatures.

“Fatigue and heat stress are major causes of injury in hot conditions,” Mr Dunphy said.

“They can reduce a worker’s performance and productivity, plus increase the chance of injury by reducing the ability to concentrate, recognise risks and communicate effectively”.

“In fact, the three years to July 2011, there were 497 claims for workplace fatigue and heat stroke at a cost of $4.3 million, so it needs to be taken seriously and managed effectively.”

Mr Dunphy said workers and businesses need to work in partnership to protect themselves from the effects of working in heat.

“If possible, businesses should try to re-schedule work to cooler times of the day such as early morning or late afternoon”. (That is a bit difficult for all fire fighting situations but we definitely should take advantage of the cooler parts of the day for fire behaviour and worker safety reasons)

“If this is not possible, ensure workers have access to plain drinking water, at least 200mL every 15-20 minutes, shaded rest areas and frequent rest breaks.”

“Supervision is also important as people can deteriorate quickly if heat affected, so keep an eye out for each other”.

“Businesses should set realistic workloads and work schedules and ensure fair distribution of work”.

“It is important that workers don’t rely on energy or caffeinated drinks which can have a diuretic affect”.

“Workers can be exposed to UV radiation when working in the shade as well as the sun, so it is important to wear sun protection in all outdoor conditions”.

“Workers should be provided clothing with a UPF 50+ rating such as loose shirts with long sleeves, collars and long pants”.

“They should also be provided with broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+, broad brimmed hats and sunglasses which meet Australian Standards for UV protection.”

Further information on fatigue management and working safely in the sun is available from or by calling 13 10 50. Other sun safety resources are available from the Cancer Council at

The NSW RFS has produced a great resource titled “Effects of Heat”, we have included it as a download below.

Click HERE or on the image below.


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A Volunteers Comment

This post originated as a comment from one of our readers.

In January of 2013 I was sent to Tasmania as an investigator for the fire in the Dunelli area. The area was highly asbestos contaminated and the workers both volunteer and staff agreed we needed health monitoring.

Some three months later, no action was taken by the dept for my health monitoring only for a staff member.

Workcover was called who sorted the situation and educated the service in their responsibilities. May I add no consultation was had with me and others that attended, the service only spoke with the Tasmanian Fire Service. We worked for the Police who were the Incident Controllers for the emergency.

After this poor performance, I requested the election of HSRs under section 50 WHS Act which I was fobbed off.

Workcover is now defending the rights of workers in the election of HSRs in the Industrial Relations Commission as the service does not want HSRs elected or placing PINs (provisional improvement notices) on the service to fix lacking WHS responsibilities. The Act and its intent is to power workers in looking after their own Health and safety.

I note your concern about funding for brigade stations and PPE and the HSRs would have the power to sort this out with the PCBU.

Consultation is important in WHS yet if Ido attend brigades meetings nothing is relayed about anything. Communication within the RFS is poor and its culture affects the future development of the RFS.

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