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/

Everyone’s looking at traffic management

It is common to start an article about traffic management training with a summary of the latest traffic controller death. But AlertForce has been reporting on these deaths for some time and the fact that controlling traffic is a high risk occupation is without doubt.

Expectations of some construction and infrastructure projects are expanding some of the tasks of the traffic controller that can change the types of risks faced and the context of the work. Also as the Work Health and Safety laws settle in, in most Australian States, traffic management is receiving increased attention from project clients; many of these clients are State governments.

 

Site Access

The classic traffic controller is the flagmen, the Stop/Slow traffic controllers. These continue to be an integral control measure in reducing potential harm to workers but construction site and infrastructure projects are also employing traffic controllers to manage site access. They are more than gatekeepers and require a strong understanding of what is occurring on the construction site, so that they can, amongst other tasks, check and verify a legitimate delivery, ensure that the worksite is not clogged with deliveries or ensure that a visitor does not drive aimlessly around site.

site access

Sometimes the physical site access has not been designed as well as it could have been and fails to anticipated the width, length or height of the plant or materials being delivered. This is particularly the case on construction sites that can change rapidly. Temporary or poorly-planned site access can increase the risk to the traffic controller who is usually required to get close to the vehicle in order to communicate with the driver. There have been several instances of traffic controllers being driven over, usually resulting in injuries to their lower limbs.

Traffic controllers should attend prestarts so that they understand the reasons behind traffic types, traffic volumes and any recent public or site concerns that may affect their duties. Perhaps more importantly, attending a prestart allows the traffic controller to raise any issues with site access or deliveries, for instance, that may have been unsafe or dangerous. These issues can often be resolved at the prestart and reduce the risks for the rest of the day or longer.

Controlling site access is not without its own risks. Truck drivers can be as impatient as any car driver and can be irate at having to be kept waiting, in line or even turned away – such is the authority of the traffic controller.

Client Demands

Recently one major Victorian infrastructure project provided additional training about traffic management to its safety advisers. This was undertaken as part of the Client’s OHS due diligence obligations as the Client had identified a hole in the advisers’ knowledge about traffic management and traffic controllers.

In the past such knowledge may have been picked up by a safety person on the job but more likely traffic plans and management were not looked at closely. The existence of a traffic management plan, no matter how poor, was often enough to satisfy a site walk.

Skilling up safety advisers increased attention to traffic management plans and controller activities. Many controllers are not comfortable with this level of attention but the safety adviser’s role is expanding beyond the limits of a construction site or project and they are entitled, under the WHS

laws they are encouraged, to inspect all of the safety documents and work processes related with that work site. Site safety walks are more likely to include traffic management than in the past.

This additional level of scrutiny requires traffic management plans to be accurate and to be part of, or linked to, the overall site safety management plans. It requires traffic controllers to be active participants in the prestarts, toolboxes and other consultative mechanisms on any project.

The obligations of traffic controllers and managers have not changed greatly – plans have to meet strict guidelines and codes, controllers need to set out their traffic control equipment in prescribed ways. But Work Health and Safety is changing and traffic controllers are becoming less invisible to the safety planning and auditing processes as project managers and, often government, clients are improving their understanding and scrutiny of traffic management.

Traffic controllers need to maintain their training and skills to the best standard that they can but they also must see themselves as part of the construction project and be involved in the decisions that may affect them or increase their risk.

To be accredited as traffic controller, a person must complete an approved Traffic Controller Training Course. The course must be delivered through a registered training organisation (RTO) approved by the relevant State Regulator.

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

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