SWATting up on traffic safety

In 2004 WorkSafe Victoria instigated a Safety for Workers and Traffic Campaign (SWAT) designed to increase the level of safety for roadside workers.  Recently WorkSafe Victoria informed a seminar of OHS professionals that this traffic management program will be relaunched in the next year’s business plan and in conjunction with VicRoads.  As such it is worth re-examining the original plan

In response to a spate of roadside worker deaths, in October 2004, the then Minister for WorkSafe, Rob Hulls (pictured right, at the launch), announced

“A state-wide blitz to improve the safety of roadside workers and reduce the number of roadside deaths”.

Hulls stated in a media release

“Victorian road users have been too casual for too long in their attitude to the safety of road workers and too often, the results have been deadly. Since the beginning of last year [2003], eight people have died in work-related roadside deaths and WorkSafe reports at least two serious injuries a month. Last year was the worst for work-related roadside deaths in half a decade with five people tragically killed and this year three people have already tragically died.”

Inspectors were going to emphasise the following issues:

  • Traffic control measures including safety barriers and ensuring safe distances between vehicles and workers;
    • Appropriate training for roadside workers and supervisors;
    • Advance warning of roadside works;
    • Sufficient hazard warnings and signage at roadside worksites;
    • High visibility clothing and safety gear.

These measures seem standard in 2016 but were inconsistently applied in 2004.  Traffic Management Plans were often rudimentary and not applied to all roadside worksites.  Truck-mounted attenuators were not around and the technology associated with Variable Message Signs (VMS) was rudimentary.

According to WorkSafe Victoria’s Annual Report for 2005 700 roadside worksites were visited by inspectors as part of the six-month blitz.

VicRoads’ Road Design Note 06-04 of November 2015 illustrates the large range of road safety and worker safety measures that are now in place on Australian roads, including truck-mounted attenuators, jersey barriers and gawk screens.    Few of these measures were in place in 2004.

The original SWAT program was to have a team of 40 Inspectors dedicated to the program with additional training on the issues for the whole of the WorkSafe inspectorate.  The inspection strategy of WorkSafe has changed over that time and removed Inspector specialists.  However, over the last twelve months WorkSafe Victoria has reinstated its specialist building and construction industry inspectorate under which the original SWAT program operated.

Over the last decade road authorities have also matured and accepted that construction and infrastructure projects must be integrated into the management of traffic flows rather than an activity that is done by others and that must not impact on traffic.  In July 2015, VicRoads issued A Guide to Working Within the Road Reserve. Essentially this guide is about the need to talk about what works are to be undertaken and to talk with the right people, to gain the right approvals. – essential WHS requirements.

The application of the Safety for Workers and Traffic Campaign (SWAT) to the modern roadside worksite is likely to be more complex as the duties and roles of the traffic controller has become a highly technical role due to the broadened safety duties of looking after the safety of themselves, their fellow workers, motorists and other road users as well as minimising traffic movement impacts.  Traffic controllers are also beholden to two regulators WorkSafe and VicRoads.

However, road construction companies and utilities companies who often need to work in an emergency have also matured in their approach to traffic management.  Larger projects have additional safety inspection resources with specialists in traffic management.  Traffic management plans are very responsive to the dynamic construction sites and are scrutinised by more stakeholders now than previously.

Traffic management is no longer simply a man with a stick; it is becoming a profession in its own right.  Government regulators have increased their safety expectations substantially over the last decade and companies that need to work on roads and in road reserves have broader safety obligations.  There is a limit to the effectiveness of engineering control measures, as outlined in the VicRoads Guide mentioned above.  Engineering needs to be supported by training traffic management personnel who can implement the control measures but also “fill the gaps” that fixed controls cannot cover.

It is from this understanding that road management authorities issue various Standards, guides and handbooks, but it is also why companies like AlertForce provide training courses that are responsive to the changing legislative and regulatory expectations and changing technologies.

It is important to have safe worksites all the time but even more so when WorkSafe Victoria and VicRoads reintroduces the SWAT inspection campaign in the next year or so.

For more details on AlertForce’s nationally recognised Traffic Management courses, go to http://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/nationally-recognised-traffic-control-training-nsw/

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