A leaked letter says Victorian fire services were warned that they were making firefighters work in the Hazelwood mine with arbitrary and dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in their blood.
An occupational hygienist employed by the fire services says all parties agreed that the CO exposure risk was ‘untenable’ and that immediate action was required.
He says the carbon monoxide blood level (COHb) set as safe for firefighters to enter or re-enter the mine had “no clear rationale or justification”.
Agreed resolutions to protect firefighters did not happen. The risks and agreed actions were kept secret from the exposed firefighters. By law this information should have been shared with the firefighters’ health and safety representatives.
Peter Marshall, secretary, United Firefighters Union, says Victorian firefighters have been treated like canaries in the mine.
“Many became ill, some were hospitalised – the outcome could have been far more serious.”
“The fire services set an arbitrary carbon monoxide blood level of 5% for firefighters to enter the mine, but Safe Work Australia says adverse health results have been well documented at COHb levels of 2.5-3%.
“After the consultant visited the mine, the parties agreed that all firefighters would wear breathing apparatus in the mine. This didn’t happen – firefighters were issued with P2 dust masks, like DIY handymen might wear when painting.”
The UFU has written to the Premier, the CFA and MFB, Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley, and WorkSafe. The UFU has asked for an immediate WorkSafe investigation to assess potential prosecution under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).