Under the Rail Safety National Law (RSNL), safety is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders (operators, workers and ONRSR) as well as those who supply or provide services.

The level of accountability that falls on any individual or group is related to their ability to influence and control the rail safety risks associated with the matter. All stakeholders including the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, rail transport operators (RTO) and Rail Safety Workers (RSW) as well as those who supply or provide services to RTOs as detailed in section 50(1)(c) of the RSNL bear the responsibility of safe railways.

Those who carry out rail safety work for an accredited operator (e.g. design, commission, manufacture, supply, install, maintain or build anything used in connection with rail infrastructure or rolling stock) also have obligations – known as general duties – to ensure what they do is safe. This includes workers contracted under labour hire arrangements who undertake rail safety work. RTOs and contractors must agree on how they will manage safety during their contract arrangement, which can mean either:

  • the contractor applying the relevant systems, procedures and reporting imposed by the RTO’s safety management system; or
  • the RTO incorporating the contractor’s systems and procedures into its safety management system.

Regulatory activities conducted by ONRSR have identified a number of concerns in relation to contractor management, including:

  • contractors being unaware of their duties and safety requirements under RSNL;
  • accountable operators failing to gain assurances that contracted work has been adequately performed;
  • ambiguity over who has effective management and control when several contracted parties are involved; and
  • concerns that a small, but not insignificant, proportion of labour hire workers are failing to meet the competency requirements for rail safety worker roles - particularly in relation to track work.

ONRSR’s expectations

As an accredited RTO under the RSNL has been deemed by ONRSR to have effective management and control over their railway operations, ONRSR will generally hold the accredited operator directly accountable for safety within the scope of their accreditation, due to their ability to influence and control the rail safety related matters within their operations. Following the principle that safety cannot be contracted out, this accountability and responsibility for safety remains with the RTO even when they engage a person or organisation, through contracts, to carry out rail safety work or railway operations on their behalf.

Contractors must be aware of their safety duties, while operators must be able to gain assurances about the adequacy of work performed for them. There should be clarity at all times in relation to who has effective management and control on site or in the operational environment. ONRSR also expects that all contracted workers meet competency requirements.

ONRSR’s actions

The contractor management national priority has been scoped to include a 4-phase approach

  • Contractor Information
  • Contractor Engagement
  • Operator Engagement
  • Compliance

A register of all contractors working within the Australian rail industry has been established and so far more than 2,000 have been identified. A process to record all the necessary organisational and operational information on each of these entities is now underway as a forerunner to a more formal period of contractor engagement and education. In a subsequent phase ONRSR will focus more intently on compliance activities such as audits and inspections that are based on the intelligence and information ONRSR has generated in relation to contractors and the education and advice provided.

ONRSR’s intention to engage directly with contractors is not an approach that has been widely used in Australia to date, but it is one that has many potential benefits - particularly in relation to ensuring all parties are aware of their safety obligations. Through open lines of communication, it is ONRSR’s expectation that the full range of benefits can be exploited, including of course, significant improvements in overall safety performance.

Update - July 2021

Currently, the project is sitting within phase 2 – Contractor Engagement – which involves the engagement of approximately 150 nominated contractors by ONRSR’s rail safety officers (RSOs).

This engagement has commenced with letters being sent to contractors,detailing the background to this particular national priority and proposing a meeting to discuss their concerns and issues.

The meeting also serves as an opportunity to educate industry with the contractor management information sheets that were developed as an integral part of the operator engagement phase.

Initial responses and feedback to the invitations have been overwhelmingly positive and have demonstrated a willingness to participate, with many viewing the strategy as an excellent safety initiative by ONRSR. Several contractors have made senior managers and executives available to meet with ONRSR indicating the seriousness with which they take this issue and the opportunity to engage with us.

During the meetings held to date, there has been a valuable exchange of information and identification of safety themes – information that will not only drive the remainder of this project but will assist ONRSR in scoping their BAU activities with operators in the future.

Update - November 2021

Phase 2 of the project has now been completed, with ONRSR engaging directly with 81 contracting companies within the rail industry. These discussions gathered information and feedback on the below broad themes:

> General information about the contracting organisation;

> Scope of services they provide on Australian rail networks;

> Rail Transport Operators they engage with / contract to;

> Type and scale/size of contracts they are involved in;

> Knowledge and understanding of RSNL and requirements under the legislation;

> Challenges experienced while contracting in the rail industry;

> Safety issues;

> Any other topics they wished to discuss with the regulator.

These discussions with contracting companies were overwhelmingly positive, with an eagerness to discuss these themes with the regulator and obtain further education about working safely in the rail industry.

The ONRSR project team is currently analysing the responses for trends or themes experienced by contractors in the rail industry, to inform the continued development of the remaining phases of the national priority.

ONRSR intends to move to phase 3 (Operator Engagement) with a series of focus activities for RTO’s in early 2022, presenting findings from the first 2 phases of the project.

Last updated: Jan 28, 2022, 8:52:29 AM