Tag: Welfare

National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services

beyondblue is undertaking the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services to build a comprehensive picture of the mental health and wellbeing of police and emergency services personnel in Australia.

There is nothing more important than the mental health and wellbeing of the people who serve and protect our communities every day. This is a landmark piece of research beyondblue is undertaking, and I am delighted that almost every police and emergency services agency in Australia is participating. The information we generate will enable us to improve and strengthen our approach to protecting those who protect us, to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Ken Lay AO APM, Chair of the Advisory Group of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Study of Police and Emergency Services

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RFS Response to Volunteer’s Conviction for Fatal Traffic Accident

Associate Professor, Dr Michael Eburn (PhD), provides advice on his Australian Emergency Law blog.

1. A service such as the RFS should have a clear policy of when ‘response’ driving is permitted. It should be when a faster response is likely to significantly improve the outcome and is it necessary to save life, property or the environment. That will require consideration of the nature of the call, time of day, traffic environment etc. It may be appropriate for a first responder to a triple zero call to respond under lights and sirens, but once the service is ‘on scene’ the incident controller needs to consider whether an ‘urgent’ response will make a significant difference to the outcome.

2. The faster response must be necessary, not merely convenient.

3. When the criteria to justify response driving is not met, drivers must drive in accordance with the Australian Road Rules as adopted in your state/territory.

4. The fundamental obligation on all drivers is not to crash. Crashing an emergency service vehicle creates another emergency, delays the response to the first event and causes more trauma. People may die in floods, fires and other events but more people die in car accidents. Drivers should be reminded that no matter what they are responding to, the most important objective is not to crash.

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Workplace Injury – from the VFFA Magazine

A workplace injury case history…

A recent case was presented by a current RFS Volunteer to a VFFA Executive Meeting and it showed the utter frustration of a Volunteer being injured on the fire ground. The Volunteer’s injury was an ongoing one and over the years the RFS had accepted every medical certificate from the treating doctor allowing the Volunteer to go on the fire line with restrictions in place as per the certificates, Work Cover also accepted the certificates. The Volunteer recently needed to have surgery which had the Volunteer requiring four months of work. Although the Volunteer was entitled to workers compensation payments, there was still quite a significant short fall compared to their regular income.

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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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Firefighter Cancer & Presumptive Legislation

The Commonwealth Act titled “Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988” includes a statutory presumption that relates to a person who develops a listed cancer after being employed as a firefighter for a qualifying period. It is deemed (without proof) that their employment as a fire fighter has contributed (to a significant degree) to the contraction of the disease. This makes that person eligible for compensation.

Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Act does not relate to NSW FRS fire fighters and many other firefighters around Australia.

Firefighter Unions and other Firefighter Associations around Australia have been pushing for this legislation for some time.

Apart from the Commonwealth legislation, the Tasmanian, South Australian and Western Australian state governments have all introduced presumptive legislation recognising twelve occupational cancers.

The VFFA has recognised that this is an issue for NSW FRS Volunteer Firefighters and we are watching how the other states are progressing in the hope that NSW will follow.

Here are some facts about the issue:

  • Without this type of legislation, firefighters would be asked to provide details of specific exposures to carcinogens and/or the names and dates of any large fires or incidents.
  • Scientific evidence clearly highlights that firefighters are more prone to certain cancers than the general public (because of their work)
  • The scientific evidence (above) has been accepted by the Australian Parliament and four other State Governments.
  • The Australian Parliament passed presumptive legislation for Federally-employed firefighters in 2011, listing a number of cancers found to be more prevalent among firefighters.
  • Monash University researchers have confirmed that there is already good evidence from a very large number of previous human studies that work as a firefighter is associated with an increased risk of several types cancer.

Other links relating to this issue:

 

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Welfare Relief Fund for Volunteer Rural Firefighters

The Problem / Background

Over the past 14 years, many parts of NSW have experienced a significant increase in major bushfire situations resulting in the declaration of numerous section 44 bushfire emergencies. The most notable fire seasons were 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

These fires season were particularly onerous and required considerable resources and effort by fire services and land managers before the larger campaign fires were bought under control and normality restored to affected communities. A significant portion of the fire fighting effort during these years was undertaken by the volunteer fire-fighters of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Due to the size and progress of these fires, the potential threat to life and property and the resources required to suppress the fires, many volunteer fire-fighters had little choice but to avail themselves to fire fighting or other fire related tasks for a considerable period of time. In most instances, when they were not fighting the fires they were resting. Whilst there is no direct evidence to support this claim, there is much anecdotal evidence that many volunteer fire fighters suffered financial hardship during these fires as a result of not receiving an income whilst on duty with the RFS.

Since its inception, the Rural Fire Service (formerly Bushfire Brigade) prided itself on its ability to muster volunteers to fight fires in our local communities, usually for no more than few days at a time.

However, much change has occurred in the past 12 years and one of those changes has seen Brigades traveling further a field for extended periods to assist in the suppression of bushfires with many of these fires continuing well beyond a few days to over a month. An example is the recent Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009 where CFA fire-fighters along with interstate colleagues were stretched to the limit and worked well beyond a month to control the fires. In addition, the RFS assists other emergency services such as the SES at other significant and protracted natural disasters such as the Sydney hail storm of 1999.

Whilst change has occurred within the RFS, notable changes have also occurred on the employment front, with workplace contracts, greater demands on employees and many self-employed working longer hours to make ends meet.

In the end, the volunteer fire-fighter has to decide between his work and the protection of his home, family and the community. This is an unsatisfactory outcome for the volunteer fire-fighter and the local community in times of emergencies and one that should be addressed as a matter of urgency with the evolution of our service. In this context, bushfires and other emergencies must be seen as a whole of community problem and associated costs must be borne by the community, business and government alike, otherwise volunteer services such as the RFS may not be sustainable in the future.

It is therefore proposed that a mechanism be established by the State Government to provide some form of “safety net” to cover the financial burden of volunteer fire-fighters and their families during protracted section 44 bushfires and other emergencies.

 Recommendation

That the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association make representation to the NSW Rural Fire Service to investigate the feasibility of providing financial support to volunteer fire-fighters during a protracted section 44 bushfire emergency and other emergencies where the service has an involvement.

The proposed model is an emergency welfare/relief fund, set up by the State Government and coordinated by the Department of Community Services (DOCs) or Centrelink at a local office. An ex gratia weekly cash payment would be provided to volunteer fire-fighters under the following circumstances;

Where a volunteer fire fighter participates continuously for a period of no less than 7 days in fire fighting or other related tasks during a declared section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergency and,  is self-employed or where an employer cannot financially support their absence during a section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergency.

Following the first payment, further payment would be made at intervals not less than 7 days apart for the duration of the section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergencies and shall only be issued on the production of a recognized certificate to DOCs or Centrelink that has been certified by the Fire Control Officer,

Such payment would only be provided to cover basic living and out of pocket expenses for the duration of the section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergency. The cash payment could take the form of a flat fee based on average weekly earnings determined by the Federal Government.

Why this proposal should be supported

This proposal should be supported to: –

ensure that volunteer fire-fighters have an income sufficient to cover basic living expenses to support themselves and their families during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies, ensure that the RFS can deliver, support and maintain its core services to the community during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies, ensure a strong, healthy and viable membership of the RFS, ensure the welfare and wellbeing of the volunteer fire-fighters of the RFS.

Consequences of this course of action

The consequences of doing nothing may result in: –

low recruitment and loss of experienced volunteer fire fighters in the RFS, increased morale problems in the RFS, loss of potential new members to the RFS, the incapacity of the RFS to provide an ongoing and sustained commitment to protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies due to lack of trained volunteer fire-fighters, a heightened concern in the community due to the diminished role of the RFS, the need to establish more permanent fire services to compensate for the loss of volunteer services.

The consequences of implementing the above proposal will as per section 3 above including;

  •  ensure that the RFS meets its community obligations and delivers its core business functions in a most timely effective and efficient manner during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies.
  •  ensure a continued high level of membership and morale in the RFS.
  •  ensure the readiness and preparedness of the RFS to rapidly respond as and when required to bushfire emergencies and other emergencies.

Alternatives

One alternative that could be considered is the introduction of a system of tax relief for the self-employed and small business who employ volunteer fire-fighters. Such a system would need to be a national system administered by the Federal Government. A system of tax relief may be a viable alternative, but would require rigid criteria and a strong commitment by all stakeholders including volunteer fire fighters to ensure its success and prevent potential abuses.

Another alternative is the introduction of a paid retainer for volunteer fire-fighters during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies. This system would need to be supported by the Federal Government and could be based on a similar system in place for members of the Australian Army Reserve when on duty with the Australian Army.

In conclusion, given Australia’s aging population, the decline in rural areas and membership of the RFS and the spectra of workplace contracts along with the likelihood of climate change and more frequent devastating bushfires as forecast by eminent scientists in the future – the need for a highly trained and rapidly mobilised volunteer rural fire service to protect life, property and the environment cannot be underestimated.

Conclusion

To this end, it is paramount that consideration be given by the RFS and the Government to introduce measures to enhance and improve the welfare of volunteer fire fighters that aim to minimize the risk of financial hardship suffered by volunteer fire fighters during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies. It must be borne in mind that this is not a form of employment or payment, rather a short term scheme to support volunteer fire-fighters and their families if needed. This action along with other measures would undoubtedly foster the recruitment of new volunteer fire-fighters as well as the retention of experienced volunteer fire fighters and is worthy of further investigation by the RFS and the Government.

Author: Michael Scholz

VFFA Executive Council Member

Member of the RFS for 34 years.

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