This advice is for PCBUs who are not directly involved in firefighting, but might have workers affected by the smoke caused by bushfires.
Workers who are not directly involved in firefighting activities may be exposed to smoke while working indoors or outdoors during periods of significant bushfire activity.
If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must provide and maintain a safe working environment for your workers in so as far as is reasonably practicable. So while you can’t control the movement of bushfire smoke, you can control where, how and when your workers undertake their duties.
Outdoor working environments
Make sure that outdoor or field work is rescheduled, if possible, until conditions (visibility and air quality) improve.
If work needs to go ahead you should:
- take appropriate risk assessments before work starts
- provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, to workers with instructions on its correct use and fitting
- ensure workers always have an effective means of communication if working alone, remotely or in an isolated place
- stay aware of any bushfires near the proposed work area and advise workers accordingly, including to follow instructions and advice from emergency services and evacuate the area if needed
- monitor outdoor air quality levels on the Department of Health’s website (external link)
- access health information on bushfire smoke on the Department of Health’s website (external link).
Indoor working environments
Make sure indoor environments are safe and without risks to health for workers during periods of elevated smoke. You must:
- work with your property management (such as building landlords) to monitor the air quality of their buildings or workplaces
- act if the air quality is not within the acceptable levels
- keep workers informed of the measures taken
- have provisions within your emergency plan that outline what you’ll do if indoor smoke becomes excessive.
Smoke and health
PCBUs should advise workers that if they have concerns about their health, they should seek medical advice from their doctor.
Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek urgent medical attention.
People who are sensitive to smoke and air pollution can also be more vulnerable to heat related illness, so staying hydrated and cool is important.
If workers have any concerns about bushfire smoke, you should raise them with your manager or WHS representative as soon as possible.
If you are not satisfied with the response contact WorkSafe Tasmania.
Building safety: electrical damage
You should not enter or approach buildings with visible fire damage. The fire may have exposed electrical conductors that are live and therefor there may be the risk of electric shock.
Buildings with no visible fire damage may still have experienced significant heat exposure, resulting in damage to external light fittings, power points, electrical appliances/equipment or wiring, which may also introduce the risk of electric shock.
It is recommended that any building that has been close to a fire is inspected by an electrical contractor to make sure the electrical installation is undamaged and is safe.
After a bushfire, all electrical appliances should be inspected before use to ensure there is no visible evidence of fire or heat damage to the appliance including the supply cord and plug.
This also applies to hot water cylinders, heat pumps, light fittings, water pumps and motors that are installed outside.
If there is any visible fire damage or melted components, the electrical appliance or equipment should not be used and should be inspected by an electrical contractor to ensure it is safe to use.
LPG storage tank or cylinders
Before the threat of an approaching bushfire, make sure:
- the area around the tank or cylinder is free from all flammable materials
- cylinders are in an upright position and secured on a firm level non-combustible base
- safety pressure relief valves of tanks and cylinders are directed away from the building and each other
- household or portable cylinders are not stored indoors, under buildings or stairwells
- all cylinders are stored away from potential ignition sources
- the tank or cylinder isolating valves accessible and can be easily turned off.
As a bushfire approaches:
- turn off all gas appliances
- turn off cylinder or tank supply/isolating valve(s)
- don't forget BBQ, caravan, workshop cylinders
- don’t disconnect or remove household cylinders from their upright position where they are on a firm level non-combustible base, ensure the cylinders are secured in place with the retention chain (if fitted)
- don’t cover the cylinders with wet material to keep cool as it may dry out and become combustible
- if the cylinders are exposed to heat — and only if safe to do so —hose them down with water to reduce the pressure building up inside the cylinder.
After the threat of bushfire has passed, it is NOT safe to turn on storage tanks or cylinders. They should be checked first by your gas supplier.
Any damage to tanks or cylinders (such as dents or gouges) will affect the cylinder’s integrity. Damage to tanks or cylinders may not be visible or obvious. If you have damaged tanks or cylinders, contact your gas supplier.
The storage tank or cylinder must be checked for damage by your gas supplier.
Gas systems and appliances
After the threat of bushfire has passed, it is NOT safe to use the gas system and/or appliances.
Do not use the gas installation or appliances without first getting a licensed gas fitter to check the integrity of the installation and appliances.
The heat from the fire may have damaged gas pressure regulators, pipework or appliances, damage may not be visible or obvious.
Natural gas installations
Know where your gas meter is located. The meter is usually located at the front, front left or front right side of your property, but if you can’t find it, contact your gas supplier.
You should also know how to turn off the gas supply at the point of supply to your property. Doing this will stop gas flowing into your properties gas pipes.
To turn your natural gas supply off:
- turn off any burners you may have alight
- locate your gas meter
- the gas supply isolating point is a valve located on the inlet (left) side of the gas meter assembly. The valve has a quarter turn action
- turn the gas supply isolating valve to the Off position. The valve is off when the handle is at right angles to the pipe.
If you can’t turn off the gas supply, tell emergency services personnel and follow their directions.
After a bushfire do not turn the gas supply back on without first consulting with a gasfitter, your natural gas supplier or gas authority.
Portable and temporary generators
Using a portable generator for temporary electrical supply
- Don’t plug or connect the generator into the home's wiring. Power from a generator connected to a home’s wiring will ‘back feed’ into power lines, potentially causing a safety hazard for you, your family, neighbours and Aurora Energy workers. It may also cause damage to your generator when mains power is restored.
- Appliances can be plugged directly into the generator, but always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before doing so.
- Use heavy duty extension cord that is rated for outdoor use.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for earthing the generator.
- Petrol and diesel powered generators produce deadly carbon monoxide fumes. So always run portable generators outside your house, garage or shed. Keep generators well away from from windows and doors (including those of your neighbours) so the deadly exhaust fumes don’t enter the home or building.
Portable generator capacity
Each generator has a rated wattage which limits the appliances it will safely power. Rotate the use of larger rated appliances, as this allows the use of a smaller generator which costs less to buy and is easier to move.
Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper use and capacity.
Don’t connect lots of appliances at once. Overloading the generator can result in damage to the appliances it is powering.
Temporary generator connections to an installation
Where there is a need to hard wire a generator to an electrical installation as a temporary power supply, the electrical work must comply with the standards of work requirements.
The licensed electrical contractor responsible for the electrical work must ensure:
- all electrical work is designed, performed, inspected, tested, verified and certified to meet the standards of work requirements
- the electrical work is notified.
The electrical contractor responsible for the electrical work is to:
- ensure there is no possibility of back feeding the electricity distribution network, which may require the disconnection and making safety of the customers mains
- tag the point of supply or connection to the network. The tag must identify there is the temporary generator connection in the installation, when it was connected and where it is located
- ensure all tags used are weather proof and all information is legible and permanent
- register the temporary generator’s installation with the distribution network service provider by providing:
- the contractor’s name and electrical contractors license number
- the address at which the generator has been connected
- the 6 digit pole identification number, of closest network service provider’s pole
- the generator’s capacity
- whether or not the customers mains have been disconnected and made safe.
Portable fuel containers
Filling portable fuel containers
Fuels should always be carried in a container specifically designed for that purpose, which complies with Australian Standard AS/NZS 2906:2001
The maximum sizes for a portable container that can be filled at a service station with a flammable liquid is 25 litres.
Safety precautions to follow when filling a portable fuel container include:
- follow all warning signs and the directions of the service station attendant
- place the approved container on the ground when filling, keeping away from all possible ignition sources
- keep one hand on the container while filling to reduce the likelihood of static electricity build up and discharge
- use an earthing strap if available to prevent static electricity build up.
Transporting portable fuel containers
Safety precautions to follow when transporting portable fuel containers including making sure:
- containers are upright, protected from impact and are away from any heat source (including residual heat/direct sun)
- lids are tightly sealed to prevent flammable vapours and liquids from escaping
- there are no ignition sources such as cigarettes/electrical equipment
- you have appropriate fire fighting capabilities with you on the vehicle.
Portable fuel containers should be transported externally to the vehicle wherever possible and are not to be transported inside a passenger compartment. We do not recommended transporting then in the boot of a vehicle.
You do not need a special licence to transport portable fuel containers.
Storing portable fuel containers
It is essential to ensure you don’t stockpile fuels because this could create a fire risk. Only keep quantities required for immediate needs, providing they can be safely managed as part of your Bushfire Survival Plan.
- Do not create a bulk storage in any one area.
- Separate from stores of other chemicals or combustibles, including LPG cylinders.
- Do not store any flammable liquids or their containers inside a domestic residence (including when empty).
- If storing in an attached garage, limit the storage to a maximum ‘minor quantity’: 25 litres petrol/100 litres diesel or oils.
- Make sure the storage area is adequately ventilated.
- Make sure liquids can’t reach ignition sources.
- Make sure liquids can’t flow into drains or onto neighbouring land, or enter any creek, pond or waterway.
Handling portable fuel containers
When using liquid fuels for temporary generators/equipment:
- always follow the manufacturer's safety instructions when filling and operating equipment. Pay special attention to static spark control and possible potential fuel spillage
- make sure you have adequate ventilation
- clean up any spills and leaks immediately
- make sure you have appropriate equipment in case of fire.
Overhead power line safety
Do not enter a property or approach power lines, whether they are standing or fallen, unless the emergency services, TasNetworks or local councils have advised it is safe to do so.
Be aware that the vibrations from an approaching vehicle can cause fire damaged poles (and structures and trees) to collapse.
Report fallen power lines by calling TasNetworks on 13 2004.
Solar power and wind turbines
- Grid/network connected generation systems: when your electricity supply from the network is interrupted, your solar PV system or wind turbine should automatically and immediately turn off the supply.
- Stand alone generation systems: these must be treated as though the power supply is still live, until proven it is to be de-energised, isolated and safe to approach.
Following a fire, as a precaution it is advised that the inverter is turned off in accordance with the manufacturer’s operating instructions until the network electricity supply is reinstated and/or an electrical contractor has inspected and tested the generation systems and the installation as being safe to energise.