Encouraging positive safety behaviour in your bushfire volunteers

Risk Matters - Summer 2021

All local governments are committed to ensuring the health and safety of their bushfire volunteers. However, safety responsibility does not fall solely on the local government - individual firefighters also have a duty to look after themselves and not put themselves or others at unreasonable risk.

Due to the nature of the activities that bushfire volunteers are engaged in, many of them are already “risk aware”. However, it is important local governments ensure all bushfire volunteers receive adequate education and awareness around the hazards associated with being a volunteer, and how they can fulfil their obligations – and go home safe and well.

It’s important to have a reasonable and practical approach when dealing with volunteers as their time and availability may be limited.

Some fundamental procedures your local government should look to implement include:

Health and safety policy

Local governments should have a health and safety policy outlining their commitment to providing a safe workplace. This should extend not only to workers, but volunteers and visitors as well.

Roles and responsibilities

It’s important that all workers and volunteers understand their individual roles and responsibilities for a safe workplace. All workers and volunteers are expected to:

  • Follow processes, procedures, and instructions

  • Report all hazards and incidents

  • Encourage and promote positive safety behaviours

  • Participate in training where required

  • Assist in risk management activities

  • Communicate and consult on safety matters

  • Take good care of equipment and use it correctly

In addition to the above, additional education and awareness on the following topics may be advantageous.

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Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol and other drugs usage can become an occupational health and safety issue if a volunteer’s ability to exercise judgement, motor control, concentration and alertness is impaired, leading to increased risk of injury or incidents. This includes legally prescribed and some over the counter medication.

Providing education and awareness on the subject can be invaluable, and should be supported with processes and procedures.

Fatigue management

When a person has exceeded their physical and mental capabilities, their body begins to decrease in performance.

Volunteer fatigue and burnout are a genuine concern, and volunteers need to be vigilant in self-assessment and identify fatigue-related behaviour in the people they work with. This cooperative approach removes the stigma associated with admitting you may be fatigued and emphasises the shared responsibility of managing fatigue effectively and looking out for each other. 

Heat stress

Here in WA we can experience long periods of extreme heat which increases the risks when working on a fire ground. All volunteers need to take care of each other, particularly those with medical conditions. Key ways to manage this risk include:

  • drinking plenty of fluid (not caffeinated, energy or alcoholic drinks)
  • alternating electrolytes with plain water
  • discussing any fatigue concerns with a supervisor
  • looking out for your those who may be showing signs of being affected by the heat

Shift work

Getting enough sleep is the single most important factor for volunteer bushfire shift workers. Speak to your supervisor about any concerns and ensure you have sufficient rest between shifts.

Near miss and incident reporting

Bushfire volunteers need to understand how to report safety concerns and incidents. This ensures local governments are aware and can address any issues.

It is vital local governments provide bushfire volunteers with guidance on the types of hazards and incidents that should be reported.

Type of incidents and hazards may include:

  • Injuries or illnesses
  • Incidents or near misses
  • Property loss or damage
  • Encouraging volunteers to report their concerns also promotes positive safety behaviours.

Resolution of safety and health issues

Having a health and safety issue resolution process promotes effective communication and consultation between the local government and the volunteers. The resolution of safety issues at the local level is vital in promoting a safe work environment.

Successfully managing illness or injuries for bushfire volunteers

LGIS are here to support local government and the volunteers to ensure injuries and illnesses are handled efficiently. With a team of allied health professionals and workers’ compensation claim managers, there is assistance and support services available to bushfire volunteers and their supervisors who are managing the injured person, specifically with the following:

  • Injuries resulting from local government volunteering duties.

  • Personal Accident claims

  • Liaising with key parties including medical and allied health professionals

  • Seeking alternative duties to support rehabilitation and recovery

  • Return to work and volunteering

Bushfire volunteers provide a vital and important role in assisting local governments to protect their communities. Ensuring they are embedded within your organisation, and understand your policies and procedures, will contribute to a positive and safe work environment.

For further support in managing bushfire volunteers please contact LGIS on 9483 8888.

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