In January we reported on the revelation that Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) Headquarters did not have arrangements in place that met its obligations under Fire, Building and WHS regulations.
The CPSU wrote to the State Fire Commission in November seeking details about existing fire wardens, the dates of its most recent practice evacuations, as well as its fire evacuation plan after member raised concerns.
Members were disappointed to find out through The Mercury that their workplace had seemingly lacked an evacuation plan for as many as five years, and raised questions about TFS’ stated intention to engage an external provider to ensure it met its statutory obligations.
Last week, the CPSU received correspondence from TFS Chief Officer Dermot Barry describing the “ongoing resourcing challenges within the division” relating to managing evacuation plans, and providing a scope document.
“It’s not only a resourcing issue – I’m advised that the outdated technology and legacy businesses processes we have to undertake our statutory obligations contribute to those challenges.”
The letter cites “resourcing issue(s)”, “outdated technology,” and “legacy business processes” as getting in the way of process. The TFS has appointed a Station Officer to the Building Safety Unit (BSU) for a period of six months to review building evacuation plans and undertake practice evacuations ‘where possible.’
The scope document outlines the anticipated timeline for the TFS Building Safety Unit to review and assess current compliance with fire, building and WHS legislation; improving current practice; and identifying ‘process optimisation opportunities.’ The total timeline is 14 weeks.
The Scope document tasks the BSU to identify the benefits to providing its services and how its work contributes to fire safety, as well as the potential for outsourcing or recalling retired staff.
Any clear explanation of why it has taken six months to get to this point, given the clear urgency of ensuring our state’s fire headquarters is able to ensure safe working conditions for its own staff, is not provided.
The Review’s emphasis on additional staffing or integrating work from other units to meet TFS’ statutory obligations also raises some real concerns, given the impact of the Rockliff Government’s State Budget cuts to public services. Agencies now have to come to grips with upwards of half a billion dollars in missing funding through the combination of a $300 million ‘efficiency dividend’, discontinuation of programs and the failure to index budgets in line with CPI, a classic example of stealth cuts.
Given the significant delays on getting to this point following months of inaction, as well as the Chief Officer’s own admission that resourcing has contributed to circumstances overtaking them – it is unclear how an already stretched agency will be able to follow this work through.
None of this diminishes TFS’ responsibility to meet its statutory obligations to workers, and the CPSU’s advice to members in January remains the same today:
Members are entitled to a safe workplace. Should your worksite not be compliant with the requirements within WHS legislation, you should seek to work from alternate locations on work, health and safety grounds until such time as your building is compliant.
If you have questions, comments or feedback you wish to share collectively through your union, contact email@example.com.