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Returning to Bushfire Affected Areas

January 09, 2020

The bushfires across most states in recent months have caused immense damage to properties and lives. In coming days and weeks, affected state Governments are likely to produce information for all residents on how they would prefer people ‘return home’ and begin to deal with the damage to individual homes and business.

The following information is provided as a “guide only” for members to assist in returning to areas affected by a natural disaster or emergency to help them return to their communities in a safe, timely and orderly fashion. Below are a number of steps that should be considered to ensure a cautious approach and the effective delivery of support after an event has occurred.

Safe Access

Do not travel to the affected area until official notice has been provided that the area can be re-entered. Road congestion only blocks emergency service vehicles. A planned approach coordinated by the State Emergency Services (SES) and other emergency services in the initial stages of the return is necessary to provide coordinated and effective relief.

Damage to Buildings and Structures

Buildings in affected areas will all be impacted in different ways. Some buildings will be completed destroyed, some will be partially damaged while others will be unaffected. Regardless of the external appearance of the building it is important to be aware of the possibility of collapse of weakened structures from fires that are still standing. Buildings may also be impacted by fallen trees or other objects.

You must always be mindful that entering a damaged building is a risk and your movement in the building and anything you move or remove from the home may cause something that at first appeared safe, to become unsafe.

When appropriate a structural engineer may be required to assess the damage and structural integrity of a building.

Safety Issues

  • Check whether electrical services have been switched off or disconnected
  • Check whether photo voltaic cells or solar hot water systems are continuing to generate electricity in day light hours
  • Be careful of slips, trips and falls due to debris or hidden holes
  • Protect yourself from potential contamination in the immediate area from chemicals stored in the home that may have exploded or spilled.
  • Protect yourself from broken glass and sharp objects

Health Issues

  • Check the availability of drinking and washing water
  • Protect yourself with appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) when removing materials such as asbestos and glass
  • Be aware of potential insects and dead animals

Once it is safe to do so it’s useful to make a record of the property before, during and after the clean up. Taking photographs and videos of the condition of the site and buildings noting both damage and debris, is an easy way to make a record before undertaking any repairs or restoration of the property.

Demolition of Structures

Demolition of larger buildings and structures generally requires approval from local council and the work must be undertaken by appropriately licensed demolition contractors. Check with your local council and state WHS authority for further information if you are required to demolition any structures.

Rebuilding Work

It will be some time before most residents are ready to arrange for rebuilding or repair of their homes. State governments play an important role in setting rules for rebuilding work in relation to approval processes and building standards, so contacting your local council for the latest information can help avoid mistakes and ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

It is important to understand that older homes and buildings were built to different standards and new buildings will need to meet today’s requirements. This may change the cost of reconstruction and builders and property owners need to work together with the local council regarding what can be rebuilt on a property.

The normal rules regarding who can undertake residential building work, requiring contracts, insurance and licenses will continue to apply.

When carrying out building work REMEMBER:

  • Keep your clients informed of progress (or otherwise) of the rectification work.
  • Document all contractual variations to avoid any ambiguity in your dealings with clients.
  • Do not allow anyone under your authority to perform any work without the relevant license.
  • Follow all State Laws with respect to workplace health and safety.
  • Be aware of the local environmental conditions (i.e. ongoing fire risk, total fire bans, etc)
  • Ensure the availability of necessary building materials during the tendering period as there may be pressure on materials suppliers due to short term increased demand.These conditions may affect any committed time frames.Make allowances under your contract for building delays.

For information on bushfires and further Emergency information in your state visit:

https://www.nsw.gov.au/

https://www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au/Pages/Home.aspx

https://esa.act.gov.au/rural-fire-service

https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/home

https://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/home.jsp

https://www.emergency.wa.gov.au/

https://www.pfes.nt.gov.au/fire-and-rescue-service/fire-incident-map

https://www.fire.tas.gov.au/

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For further clarification and information on these matters HIA members can contact HIA on 1300 650 620 or technical@hia.com.au