Tag: WHS

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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Your rights under lights and siren – By Michael Eburn

Michael Eburn says that he is asked this question by a NSW volunteer and jumps to a quick conclusion – lights and sirens don’t give you any rights.
The question was: I was told other vehicles must give way to emergency vehicles when under lights and sirens but I’ve also been told that if you’re under lights and sirens it does not give you the right-of-way. Of course you have to take care at all times but I’m interested in know what rights does the driver of an emergency services vehicles under lights and sirens have.

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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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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 www.workcover.nsw.gov.au or by calling 13 10 50. Other sun safety resources are available from the Cancer Council at www.cancercouncil.com.au.

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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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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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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Volunteer Rural Fire-fighters could face prosecution under new WHS Laws

19 January 2012

The VFFA, the voice of the NSW volunteer rural fire-fighter is concerned that under the new safety laws, volunteer rural fire-fighters could be prosecuted if an accident occurs whilst protecting their communities from bushfires says President Peter Cannon.

Volunteer rural fire-fighters are now classified as “employees” under the new safety laws and face a legal duty of care to do what is “reasonably practicable” to prevent injury to themselves and others including members of the public.

We know that the duty of care will extend to any setting where volunteer rural fire-fighters are “conducting an undertaking” such as bushfire fighting, training, maintenance and fund raising activities. It means every decision a volunteer rural fire-fighter makes whilst on duty carries a risk of prosecution if an accident happens as a result of that a decision says Peter Cannon.

The level of bureaucratic red tape is expected to increase as the new safety laws require volunteers charged with running their local brigades such as the Brigade Captain and President to have the same level of expertise and resources you would expect of the senior executives of the RFS, which is completely unreasonable and unrealistic says Peter Cannon.

The ramifications of the new safety laws on volunteer rural fire-fighters are significant as breaches of the new safety laws means that volunteer rural fire fighters can face penalties of up to $300,000 or five years in jail.

The duty of care imposed under then new safety laws could cause volunteer’s numbers to decline at a time when volunteer numbers are already suffering. Many older and “retired” volunteer rural fire fighters in country NSW are concerned they may not be permitted on the fire ground under the new safety laws which would undermine the capacity of Rural Fire Brigades to provide protection to their local communities says Peter Cannon.

Retaining volunteers in positions of leadership in the RFS such as Brigade Captains could prove difficult as serving Officers now know they could be prosecuted if an accident occurs on the fire ground under their watch says Peter Cannon.

The fact is that fire fighting is a high risk occupation where things can and do go wrong and it grossly unfair that liability for accidents in such a high risk environment has now shifted to volunteers who could even be prosecuted for an accident even when acting in good faith says Peter Cannon.

The VFFA is calling on the RFS and NSW Government to immediately clarify what the new safety laws mean for volunteer for rural fire-fighters, provide appropriate training and resources to cope with the new safety laws and, most importantly reassure volunteers that they will be provided with appropriate support by the RFS if they are subject to prosecution under the new safety laws.

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