The topic of Bushfire Awareness is very important for everyone, including landscapers and gardeners working outdoors in many varied environments.
The summer of 2020/2021 may not have been memorable for its heat waves and bushfires, unlike the past few years when high temperatures and dry vegetation was causing havoc all over Australia, when bushfires were a major hazard to property, forests, wildlife, and people.
There are several sources of information on bushfire awareness and how to manage the hazards (Ref 4), but most importantly its important to develop an innate culture or instinct of self-preservation, and protection of the environment and population.
In some situations, all you need is a careless spark to start a tragic bushfire and engulf the surroundings.
Landscapers and gardeners require to develop a SWMS for each site they work on to address the hazards they identify before commencing work, with bushfire awareness and risk mitigation as a very important hazard associated with many activities undertaken in the normal course of their work.
Pre-start or Toolbox meetings should highlight the dangers and ensure awareness of the workplace health and safety protocols in the event of a fire.
Potential bushfire hazards are summarised as follows:
- Hot work (welding, use of blow torch, angle-grinding etc.)
- Use of explosive power tools
- Use of vehicles, plant
- Use of chainsaws, mowers, blowers, etc
- Use of flammable materials (refueling, etc.)
- Burning of vegetative slash (always avoid)
Potential threats arising from these activities include:
- Ignition of fire through the generation of sparks, use of naked flame etc
- Damage to worksite property / infrastructure through fire (smoke, radiant heat, flame contact, ember attack and ash)
- Damage to nearby properties or other assets in the event a fire could not be controlled
- Injury/fatality to personnel on site, emergency services personnel or the public
To address these potential hazards and ensure that the risks of bushfire are minimised, and that adequate bushfire response equipment is available in the event of fire, it is important for landscapers and gardeners to develop a Bushfire Management Plan, relevant for each worksite.
2.0 Bushfire Management Plan
If there is an increased risk of bushfire within the works area during landscaping / gardening, the following summarises action to be implemented during the works:
- No fires to be lit within the works area at any time.
- Depending on the size of the project and hazards in the surroundings, appropriate firefighting equipment should be available on site for the duration of the project. For example, a trailer mounted fire response unit, fire beaters, knapsacks, fire extinguishers, garden hose reels, etc
- All vehicles, plant and petrol-powered equipment are to be in good working order and fuel systems are to be inspected for leaks prior to work commencing. Vehicles are to always remain on the paved surfaces to avoid exhaust systems contact with vegetation. Spark arresters may be fitted to site vehicles to minimize risk of fire. Diesel powered vehicles are non-sparking
- Welding and grinding activities are to be carried out on cleared areas only, or behind spark shields, with firefighting equipment on standby
- An Emergency Contacts List to be developed and displayed, applicable for the work site location. For example: CFA, SES, etc
3.0 Emergency / Evacuation Plan
As well as a Bushfire Management Plan, it is critical to have a site-specific Emergency / Evacuation Plan to include escaping the dangers if bushfires approach your worksite, or if you’re unable to fight a site fire.
To escape from the threatened area, retreat to clear ground assembly point designated on your pre-determinedEvacuation Plan for your worksite.
In any event:
- Try to stay on bare or burnt ground, e.g., clearings and roads
- Move across slopes and out of the path of the fire, then work your way downslope toward the back of the fire; do not run uphill or away from the fire unless you know a safe refuge is near
- Do not attempt to run through the flames unless you can see clearly behind them
- Move through flames onto burnt ground where flames are small (less than 1.5 metres high). Select a path that is least obstructed by dense growth or uneven ground
- Use clothing to best advantage as a shield
- Breathe air close to the ground, away from combustion gases.
- If conditions become severe, use every possible means to protect yourself from radiation:
o Cover yourself with dirt, sand or use wheel ruts, depressions, large rocks, etc. to give protection
o Carry matches and if trapped light up an area and use burnt country as a refuge. Do this only as a last resort and if there is time for the burn back to spread sufficiently (20 metres or more)
Suggested further reading material is available on several websites, where they provide invaluable details of how to prevent and survive bushfires.
• Rural Fire Service (RFS), NSW – Bushfire survival Plan
• Country Fire Authority (CFA), Victoria – Your Bushfire plan, The Basics
• Rural Fire Service (RFS), Queensland – Bushfire Survival Plan
• Country Fire service (CFS), South Australia – Volunteer Portal
• Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), Western Australia – Bushfire Overview
• Victoria State Emergency Services (SES)