February 11, 1998

The Department has issued two notices titled “Use of Portable Ladders” in recent days. Reference has been made to discussions being held with your Union’s officials – which is correct. This notice serves to provide members with the Union’s assessment of the current situation.

The Union made routine investigations to ensure member safety following the serious failure of an 11m portable ladder during the course of a drill on February 2. Regrettably, what was expected to be a relatively simple (and isolated) matter escalated once the Union had accessed the Department’s files on portable ladders.

It now appears that serious questions may have existed with regard to the Brigades’ ladders (both in terms of guidelines for use and their construction) for at least 3 years. The Department has been testing the current ladders, and evaluating possible replacement ladders, for around 12 months now. This in fact raises many more questions about your employer’s regard for your safety in the interim, and will be fully investigated by the Union in due course.

The Union’s officials recognised that we were not qualified to pass judgement on ladders, and so referred the matter to WorkCover as the independent body to advise whether or not they are in fact safe. Any decision to date to remove the ladders, or to leave them in use, has ultimately been made by the Department – not the Union. The Union has discussed this matter with management, but has not issued any directions because of our decision to rely upon the expertise and judgement of WorkCover, and the provisions of the OH&S Act.

The Union sincerely hopes that all ladders are judged to be safe, and that they may all be returned to service immediately. Portable ladders are fundamental to both our members’ and the community’s safety. It follows that even though the Union is not directly involved with this matter, it will nonetheless continue to follow it closely. The final decision on the status of the Brigades’ portable ladders now rests, appropriately, with WorkCover.

Chris Read

State Secretary

11th February, 1998