In Australia, State Emergency Service (SES) staff and volunteers contribute to disaster risk reduction and provide emergency support during and after disasters and are often the first responders to emergencies such as storms, floods, bush search and rescues, building damage, traffic hazards and road crash rescues. More than 40,000 volunteers are deployed across all states and territories, fulfilling a range of roles. Given the physically demanding nature of SES roles, suitable occupational health and safety strategies are needed that, amongst other things, optimise the health and wellbeing of all members. One such strategy is the ability to match the physical fitness of members to the demands of the role. This strategy is colloquially referred to as being ‘fit for task’
The SES fit for task project was undertaken by Australia’s State Emergency Service agencies in partnership with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, jointly funded with the Australian Council of State Emergency Services and completed by Natural Hazards Research Australia with support from AFAC.
The aim was to develop an evidence-based program that defined the minimum physical fitness required to undertake certain SES tasks, supplemented with a set of physical fitness assessments that can be undertaken by SES units and groups.
Hazard Note 4: A national evidence-based SES program to reduce injury summarises this research and presents the new evidence-based national SES Fitness for Role program.
The SES Fitness for Role program was launched at the AFAC23 conference in August 2023. It is the first time that state- and territory-based emergency services across Australia have collectively developed and implemented a single national approach to safe physical fitness of first responders.
Based on almost a decade of research and translation, the program is now being implemented across all SES agencies to improve the health and wellbeing of SES members, to ensure safety as members perform required tasks.