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Under health and safety legislation in all jurisdictions, you have a legal obligation to take all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of a fire or explosion. You must also ensure you are prepared for a fire or explosion and that you will notify your health and safety regulator if a fire-related incident occurs.

Are you aware that if your business operates in jurisdictions under the Work Health and Safety Act(2011) (WHS Act), officers can be held personally liable for any illness or injury suffered as a result of poor fire safety management at the workplace? In Victoria and Western Australia directors, executive officers and senior managers can be held liable.

Under all health and safety legislation, you are required to ensure that your workplace has adequate fire prevention and firefighting equipment.

Examples of firefighting equipment include fire extinguishers and fire hose reels, fire blankets and fire helmets. Business-owners must ensure that all firefighting and fire prevention equipment is properly installed, tested and maintained.

It’s important that you replace or repair as quickly as possible any piece of equipment that becomes unserviceable for any reason.

There are a number of ways you can reduce the risk of fire in your workplace, including:

  1. Eliminating the hazard by replacing the use of a flammable material with a safe one.
  2. Substituting the hazard by replacing the use of a very flammable material with a less flammable one.
  3. Isolating the hazard by enclosing work areas containing flammable liquid or gas.
  4. Implementing engineered controls, such as installing fire sprinklers and safety doors, or using mechanical ventilation to remove flammable fumes.
  5. Deploying administrative controls by providing workers with information on the emergency plan and evacuation procedures.
  6. Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facemasks for workers who work with hazardous chemicals. However, PPE should be used as a final option as it provides the least effective option because it relies on individuals in the workplace to correctly follow the instructions and use the equipment to keep them safe.

Emergency management

No matter what industry you operate in, your business must have an emergency management plan in place to deal with all types of emergencies that could affect your workers’ health and safety.

It’s vital that you have an emergency management plan, which is a set of written instructions that sets out what workers and others in the workplace should do in the event of an emergency. The emergency management plans are particularly important for businesses with more than 15 employees, but even if you operate a small business it is still recommended that you have an emergency management plan in place.

Your emergency management plan should be practical and easy to understand. It should include:

  • emergency procedures;
  • procedures for notifying emergency services, including relevant contact details;
  • how medical treatment and assistance will be provided;
  • details of the person who is authorised to coordinate the emergency response;
  • details on how workers will be trained in implementing emergency procedures; and
  • processes for testing emergency procedures − these should be tested every 6 months and documented in the emergency procedure.

Incidents

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), you must report a notifiable incident at your workplace and notify your health and safety regulator.

Similar obligations also exist under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA) (OSH Act).

What constitutes as a notifiable incident varies across jurisdictions. But an incident resulting in someone’s death, or an incident causing a serious injury or illness, or a dangerous incident that is the direct result of a work environment or work-related activity, will always be considered a notifiable incident

Even near misses may be classified as dangerous incidents.

The safety regulator can view an internal investigation report if it decides to investigate an incident. This means that information in the report about the causes of an incident can be used to help prove that you did - or did not - carry out your obligation to provide a safe workplace.

 

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