A member made contact with the association last week in relation to the DFES “Operational Circular 01/2021 – LIGHT TANKER SAFETY UPDATE – MEETING WITH WORKSAFE WA“.

As can be seen by clicking on the link above, the Circular confirms that after Worksafe WA conducted an investigation “regarding safety complaints relating to Career Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) Light Tankers,” 5 improvement notices were issued “relating to CFRS Light Tankers.”

Given the fact that many Local Government Bush Fire Brigades own and operate a variety of Light Tankers similar to those of the CFRS, our member was understandably concerned that without more information about the improvement notices or specifically which model of Light Tanker they relate to, volunteers might be unknowingly at risk.

Although the Circular only addressed Deputy Commissioner Craig Waters is very specifically about CFRS vehicles, it does offer reassurance that, “all Light Tankers comply with the Australian Design Rules, with standard operating procedures and protocols in place to support the safe use of operational vehicles.”

Nevertheless, since DFES isn’t the owner of Bush Fire Brigade vehicles nor the “employer” of Bush Fire Brigade volunteers, we sought more information based on the possibility that consideration for vehicles in our service might have been overlooked. At 4:50pm on 14 January, we sent an urgent email to FES Commissioner Darren Klemm asking:

Can you please urgently let us know if any Bush Fire Service Light Tankers are similar to the CFRS Light Tankers to which the five WorkSafe improvement notices apply and if so, provide any details we can share with volunteers who are concerned about driving them?

We haven’t received any response from the busy FES Commissioner yet, but the team at Worksafe have been generous with their time and shared as much information as the law allows.

In order to “join the dots” we have been able to obtain, it is important to understand a few of the relevant sections of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The first is that if a Worksafe inspector is of the opinion that the Act has been contravened in any way, they can issue an employer with one of two “notices”. Section 49 of the Act says Prohibition Notices are used when the inspector is of the opinion that an “activity involves or will involve a risk of imminent and serious injury to, or imminent and serious harm to the health of, any person.” Likewise, Section 48 explains that Improvement Notices are issued when an inspector is of the opinion that the Act has been contravened but the activity does not involve a risk of imminent and serious injury.

Next, Section 51 says that if an employer disagrees with an inspector’s opinion, it can ask the WorkSafe WA Commissioner to “review” it. The Act doesn’t give any maximum time for a review to be completed. But it is very clear that while a Review is happening, a Prohibition Notice remains in effect while Improvement Notices are suspended.

Lastly, if an employer is not happy with the outcome of a Review, Section 51A says that within 7 days after receiving the Review decision, they ask the Occupational Safety and Health Tribunal to undertake a further review – which “shall act as quickly as is practicable in determining a matter referred“. As with the initial Review process, an Improvement Notice is suspended and a Prohibition Notice remains in effect during the course of a Tribunal Review.

So, although we don’t yet have details of what the 5 alleged safety issues are or specifically which vehicles they apply to, we can piece together the following to help provide some assurance for our members:

Five Improvement Notices (NOT Prohibition Notices) were issued relating to CFRS Light Tankers
This means the Worksafe inspector did not consider any of the issues to involve a risk of imminent and serious injury or ill-health to anyone.

DFES does not wholly accept any of the 5 Improvement Notices
That is, DFES believes at least some part of each alleged risk is not a problem.

The Worksafe Commissioner is currently reviewing all 5 Improvement Notices
All 5 Improvement Notices are suspended (have no effect) until the Worksafe Commissioner concludes the Review.

DFES may choose to question the outcome of the Worksafe Commissioner’s Review
If the Worksafe Commissioner finds that any of the five safety concerns require changes to be made, DFES could choose to ask for another review which would mean the relevant Improvement Notice/s remain suspended until a final finding is made by the Tribunal.

Considering the information above and in the absence of any detail from DFES, the association is confident that the activities relating to CFRS Light Tankers subject to the five Improvement Notices issued by Worksafe does not pose any serious risk to volunteers operating similar Light Tankers.

Of course, if we are able to get any more relevant information, we will share it immediately and strongly urge any volunteer with safety concerns about any vehicle, workplace or practise to make immediate contact with your Zone Representative or our Volunteer Engagement Manager, Mr Alex Espey.