Business Fire Risk Assessment in Bushfire Prone Areas

Things to Consider During a Business Fire Risk Assessment in Bushfire Prone Areas

Ken Walker

bushfire looks quite bad

If you have been the operator of a business for a few years you probably have considered a business fire risk assessment. Even though every business, large and small, is required to have an emergency management plan, which complies with Australian Standard 3745-2010. It can be a very complex activity to take on.

In this article we will look at a number of fire risk assessment activities, but concentrate on the bushfire risk. Furthermore, you should be able to determine the complexity of you situation and either have a go putting together an emergency plan yourself or employing the services of a professional emergency planner.

The climate is changing and so is the bushfire risk

Over the past few decades it has been quite evident that the weather and environment is changing. Storms and severe weather is becoming more prevalent. One just has to look at the news each night and its likely there has been another devastating climate related event somewhere around the world.

This fact really suggests that it is becoming much more important to plan for emergencies and keep those we love and in our care safe. Including your employees and the public that may frequent your business.

Am I really at risk from bushfire

There is a large section of the population that has no immediate risk from bushfire. Generally they live in the central areas of cities with a population of more than 10,000 residents. There is still the potential to impacted by the products of a bushfire I.e. smoke and other products of combustion. The air quality could be substantially compromised.

Even in cities there are parks and bush areas which can have a large impact during a fire and affect a number of people in your community.

Those businesses at real risk are located in close proximity to one or all  of the following:

Grass and paddocks

Fires can spread very fast through grass and paddocks especially when there are high fuel loads resulting from good rains in the spring. Once the grasslands has fully cured (level of dryness of the grass) in late spring to early summer there is a significant risk that businesses that are situated close to these areas will be adversely impacted by fire. 

Fire can spread rapidly through long grass and short grass but the longer the grass the high the potential intensity and  life threatening radiant heat. If you business is within the vicinity of such fuel you should take action to mitigate the risk from wildfire.

bushfire risk matrix

Trees and bush areas

There are so many variables when it comes to living and/or working near the bush.  I.e. Topography and the density of the bush just to name a few. Bush areas can provide a high risk to communities and businesses every summer but as climate change kicks in the potential for periods of drying is increased the risk becomes much more substantial.

When we look at the history of bushfire in Australia. The largest and most destructive fire were Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday in Victoria and South Australia. Both of these fires occurred at the end of a drought. Therefore, with drought seemingly becoming more prevalent around the world, there will be a very large potential for devastating bushfire and life threatening situations.

Coastal Scrub

Areas around beaches and the coast have fire risks that must be mitigated. If your business operates near these areas you could be exposed to fire danger that is well beyond the suppression capabilities of the fire services. Even with awesome firefighting aircraft.  

The fuel loads are extreme and often with little fuel reduction burning taking place. If your business is within a few kilometers of these then the risks are very high. Thus risk mitigation is essential. The big killer here is radiant heat and attack from burning embers may create an environment that will not sustain human life.

The rural/urban interface

This is where the grassland and/or bush meets the urban fringes of towns and cities. All of the above situations are relevant here and even though fire departments are more prevalent in built up residential areas of cities and towns. There is still a substantial risk to life.

 Even Though, legislation in Australia indicates that all businesses must ensure the safety of their employees and the public. Putting that aside, it is just a good idea to protect your livelihood and potentially the ones you love.

risk matrix for bushfire

Understanding the level of risk to your property

In emergency management circles there are a couple of terms that lay out the basis for emergency planning. They are:

  1. Preparedness
  2. Response 
  3. Recovery

The key to ensuring such plans are workable and not just a document that looks great. We should carry out a  check and balance, that can help determine its suitability to your situation.

Check if the emergency plan would work for your next door neighbor. If it would then it’s probably missing something. Something that is specific to the way your business operates. Probably the key words here are “emergency plans should be contextualized to your specific business”. They should take into account your neighbors but should be specific to your environment.

Most managers have heard of the risk management matrix. This is the basis of completing a risk assessment of your business. Determining the likelihood and consequences of specific emergencies. It is here your local fire department may be able to help you with historical information. 

Some risks are higher than others. I.e. there are generally more fires than hazardous material incidents and more medical emergencies than fires. This information and an appropriate risk assessment can stop you putting a lot of work into potential emergencies that are very unlikely to occur. This doesn’t mean they should be included I.e. terrorist attack; but the details will be less than those items identified as high risk.

An emergency management specialist can save you a lot of time and money when analysing risk and producing an emergency management plan.

In conclusion

Grass and bushfires have been a big part of the Australian environment for millennia. Even so, with an ever changing climate businesses who are exposed to bushfire and grassfire risk have a duty to provide emergency management plans to mitigate the risk to employees and the general community around them. In this series of articles the next subject will be about protecting your investment.

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