New Update on improving safety at controlled burns

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Scion’s Fire team has produced a new Rural Fire Research Update (no. 15) highlighting farmer safety when undertaking controlled burns in NZ.

The research, funded by Fire & Emergency New Zealand, followed the tragic deaths of three farmers in rural burn-offs in recent years, and recognition that there was no database of fatalities, injuries or near-miss events to help understand causes, or how farmers use fire and what specific actions lead to injury or death.

A list of fire incidents from over the past 140 years was compiled to find out what we can learn from these events. Most of the known incidents were from anecdotal accounts or newspaper reports. It included 68 incidents that resulted in serious harm injuries, 38 that resulted in fatalities and 72 reported incidents that did not result in injury.

Lack of preparation, working alone and without appropriate equipment and clothing, as well as being in the wrong place with no escape routes, were the major preventable factors that contributed to death and injury.

The study found that very little of the safety information available to farmers is widely used. In most cases, burn plans (how to proceed with the fire) and permit conditions (the conditions under which the burn is allowed) were the only formal written information most farmers consulted before lighting. However, there is evidence that farmers do listen and respond to advice about safe burning practices from Rural Fire Officers (RFOs). This makes onsite engagement by the RFOs critical in the exchange of knowledge around safe burning practices.

To aid farmers in improving safety and operational practices when preparing for and conducting burns, international guidelines could be adapted to NZ conditions, along with standardised burn plan templates for various types of fires. In addition, making practical burn training opportunities available to farmers describing how to achieve land management goals while maintaining safe burning practices, would help to mitigate injuries and fatalities.

The Update summary can be accessed here, while the full Report (#164) is available at https://fireandemergency.nz/research-and-reports/research-reports/

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