Court Summary - at a glance
- Industry best practice refers to the acronym – LACES a safety briefing aid for working with fires:
L – Lookout
A – Anchor point and awareness
C – Communications
E – Escape routes
S – Safety zone
In this instance:
- There was no non-participating lookout who was able to instantly and reliably communicate with the employees involved with the burn-off;
- The fire was not started from an anchor point (where the fire could not outflank the victim);
- There were no effective communications in place between the two employees undertaking the burn-off;
- The victim did not have an effective escape route; and
- There was no effective safe zone for the victim to retreat to.
- Ensure appropriate personal protective equipment is provided to the workers;
- Ensure planning/risk assessment of the burn operation and provision for an unexpected wind change;
- Ensure checking from a reliable source of the weather forecast (which would have predicted a wind change in this instance);
- In this instance, both workers worked independently, significantly separated from each other. They should have worked close to each other.
- Ensure workers are appropriately trained to carry out burn-offs or under supervision by a competent person; and
- The burn-off of both sides of the valley was not undertaken simultaneously. Serious consideration of using a helicopter to do this should have occurred.
On the day of the incident, two employees (one being the farm manager who was giving instructions) of the Defendant were carrying out a controlled burn-off on foot in part of the station with steep terrain.
The victim was instructed by the farm manager to travel down a spur as far as he could go towards the main creek in the gully and then commence the burn on the way back up; however, it seemed that the victim commenced the burn on his way down the spur. At the bottom of the spur the victim was surrounded by dense vegetation and his only way out was the way he had gone down. When the fire was being lit, the wind changed direction and blew down the gully towards the victim. The farm manager was 800 metres away from the victim further up the valley and out of sight of the victim undertaking the back-burn. He had to walk 10 minutes to a higher position to get cell phone reception. He then called the victim on his cell phone and told him about the wind change and advised him to move to higher ground. The victim walked for at least 19 minutes through dense vegetation before being engulfed by fire.
A search was instigated and the victim’s body was found on sheep tracks some distance from the path he had taken down the hill. He had been attempting to climb to a higher location.