THE Country Fire Authority’s apology for exposing firefighters to dangerous chemicals at its Fiskville training facility east of Ballarat will provide little solace for the families who may have been impacted.
But its admissions following a scathing report into practices employed at the facility since the mid-1970s at least now recognise the potential depth of the
It also shines a stark light on how poorly organisations considered occupational health and safety measures. A report, which followed an independent investigation, released by the CFA says that in view of the tens of thousands of people who trained at the contaminated site between 1974 and 1996, it is “surprising” only three “acute incidents” involving exposure to chemicals had been identified.
The report’s investigating chairperson Professor Robert Joy interviewed 324 CFA members past and present, many of whom were ill.
Up to 87,000 firefighters have trained at the site.
As the CFA also admits, it is likely that the entirety of impact of exposure to chemicals at Fiskville will ever be totally unravelled.
Simply, it is too difficult to pinpoint health effects being directly related to exposure at the site.
What must be most concerning is that action was not taken sooner after concerns were initially raised about the potential health impacts associated with training or working at Fiskville.
As CFA chief executive Mick Bourke said yesterday, if that means his organisation is liable, then so be it.
It’s an admission which is heartfelt and further embeds the point that decision-making at the organisation at the time was considered without respect to the future calamity which has now been uncovered.
While some will seek a witchhunt after such an admission, what would be more proactive is a forensic investigation into each and every person who may have been exposed.
There’s little doubt that some payouts will ensue but possibly the greatest lesson is that turning a blind eye to even potential issues can have enormous ramifications days, weeks, or even years after time has passed.
Given it’s reaction, that’s something the CFA now knows it must face up to ensure its reputation is not irreparably tarnished.