BULLETIN

Bulletin No:      203                                               Volume:  20                     Wednesday 3 September 2014

TO ALL UFU MEMBERS

VICTORIA: STILL

NOT PREPARED

FOR DISASTER

The inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire has found Victoria was unprepared to protect the community – four years after the Royal Commission’s final report in the Black Saturday bushfires.

The board has also supported proposals for more professional firefighters.

Victoria’s lack of preparation saw firefighters exposed to elevated levels of carbon monoxide – which is lethal in high concentrations. The inquiry found that fire services had no protocols for this initially, then relied on a plan which had remained in draft form since 2006.

The report states that:

“Fire services were initially inadequately prepared to respond to the hazardous conditions produced by the Hazelwood mine fire…”

and

“The Board considers that better mechanisms should have been in place to protect firefighters from the risks of exposure to carbon monoxide. The Board considers that there was a delay in implementing safety procedures to protect the firefighters from the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.”

The State Control Centre was also late calling on the EPA for support and advice, then the EPA was unable to respond quickly. The lack of a cohesive plan meant the CFA and Health Department gave conflicting advice to the public.

The inquiry estimates the total cost to the Victorian Government, local community and the mine operator as more than $100 million.

It took 45 days to bring the fire under control, using more than 200 appliances and 7000 firefighters from throughout Australia.

During this time firefighters and other mine staff were exposed to multiple hazards, including exposure to carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds such as benzene, and ozone.

The inquiry says the number of individuals who experienced symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning is unknown.

While the inquiry has recommended a 20 year community health study, there is no acknowledgement of the cumulative effects on firefighters’ health. The Napthine Government continues to deny the link between firefighting and cancer, and has refused to follow other States with legislation to support firefighters with work-related cancers.

Separate WorkCover and EPA investigations into the fire are continuing. WorkCover are investigating carbon monoxide and water contamination concerns upon request of the UFU.

After Black Saturday the government agreed to fund an extra 342 fulltime CFA firefighters (half the number the CFA asked government for). Now the CFA, backed by the Napthine Government, is resisting employing these firefighters and has gone to the Federal Court to challenge this commitment.

In contrast, the inquiry acknowledged the evidence of the CFA that had more resources been available, those resources would have been deployed. The Board also notes and encourages the implementation of the existing emergency services plan for increased numbers of career firefighters.

The actions of the MFB immediately after the fire are also notable. The fire was declared safe on March 25. Three days later the MFB made an application to the Fair Work Commission to terminate firefighters’ enterprise agreement – an agreement which the MFB had enthusiastically welcomed in 2010.

Members can access the inquiry online at:

http://hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au/

Further information will be provided in relation to the Hazelwood fire as it becomes available, including in relation to the ongoing WorkCover investigation.

Strength in Unity

READ OUT AT MUSTER AND PIN ON NOTICE BOARD

Authorised by Peter Marshall, Branch Secretary