Protecting the health and safety of retail workers during the Australian bushfires

BY Australian Retailers Association
07 January 2020

As bushfires continue to ravage parts of the country, retailers are being urged to ensure their workers are kept safe during this time by reviewing and enacting workplace emergency plans. 

The impact of external emergencies, such as bushfires that may affect the health and safety of workers, should be taken into account in the plan.

Retailers have a duty under health and safety legislation to protect the health and safety of workers while at work, this includes during emergencies. More specifically, retailers must ensure they have prepared an emergency plan for the workplace that provides for the following –

Emergency procedures, including – declarations of extreme weather warnings, example: code red in the case of extreme bushfires (following relevant local authorities, for example, the fire services, SES and police)

  • an effective response to an emergency, including extreme weather conditions such as bushfires that impact the business
  • evacuation procedures, including:
  • safe exit routes
  • the identification and communication of roads that may be closed; and
  • a designated ‘safe place.’
  • notifying emergency service organisations at the earliest opportunity
  • medical treatment and assistance
  • effective communication between the person authorised by the business to coordinate the emergency response and all persons at the workplace (this includes those workers who work remotely)
  • Testing of the emergency procedures, including the frequency of testing (annually at a minimum)
  • Information, training, and instruction to relevant workers concerning implementing the emergency procedures.

Important - A retailer must ensure that the emergency plan for the workplace is implemented in the event of an emergency, including during extreme weather conditions such as bushfires where the conditions impact, or have the potential to impact the health and safety of workers.

For those retailers who may not be operating in a location that is close to the bushfires, it’s crucial to be aware that “bushfire smoke can travel hundreds of kilometres and pose a range of health issues, especially for those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions. Pregnant women, older people, and young children, as well as those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, are most likely to be affected by bushfire smoke.” These factors should be considered when preparing and reviewing workplace emergency plans.

Retailers are encouraged to review and if necessary, enact their emergency plans in response to the extreme weather conditions. Once enacted the emergency plan should be reviewed and revised daily, at a minimum, this includes communicating with workers.

For guidance on workplace emergency plans, retailers can access Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice: Managing the work environment and facilities and Emergency Plans Fact Sheet.

Additional Resources

Additional information on bushfires and associated work health and safety risks can be accessed via the following websites:

Staying informed about bushfires

Your state or territory fire service will keep you informed about local fire conditions, danger ratings, and warnings:

There are also useful online resources and phone apps that can help you stay informed about fires, such as Fires Near Me and MyFireWatch.[1]

The ARA’s Employment Relations Advisory Team provides a free telephone consulting service for members on all employment matters and offers free online resources such as contracts and templates, as well as member rates for legal services specialising in Employment matters. Please contact the ARA Employment Relations Advisory Team on 1300 368 041.

1 Ryan, C. (2020). Even if you don't live near a bushfire, your health could be at risk. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2019-11-19/bushfire-smoke-health-managing-risks/11699894 [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

2 Healthdirect.gov.au. (2020). Bushfires and your health. [online] Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bushfires-and-your-health [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Australian Retailers Association

Founded in 1903, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is Australia’s largest retail association representing Australia’s $310 billion sector, which employs more than 1.2 million people. As the retail industry’s peak representative body, the ARA works to ensure retail success by informing, protecting, advocating, educating and saving money for its 7,500 independent and national retail members throughout Australia. For more information, visit www.retail.org.au or call 1300 368 041.

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