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Fatigue conviction for rail safety worker

rail fatigue

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has welcomed the finalisation of proceedings against a rail safety worker in New South Wales who pleaded guilty to three charges relating to serious and repeated fatigue breaches of Rail Safety National Law (RSNL).

Earlier this year the individual was fined $50,000 for failing to adhere to fatigue management requirements when performing shifts as a protection officer on the rail network. The primary role of a protection officer is to ensure the safety of other workers.

On three separate occasions the individual completed day and night shifts almost “back-to-back”, without the mandatory 11-hour break. Further, on two occasions he worked shifts longer than the maximum 12 hours that was allowed in the circumstances.

The ONRSR said this type of behaviour by workers, and in particular protection officers, can have the potential to endanger not only their own lives but those of other track workers reliant on them to ensure their safety while working in the rail corridor.

Section 56 of the RSNL outlines the duties of rail safety workers, including being the need to, when carrying out rail safety work:

(a) take reasonable care for his or her own safety

(b) take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the safety of other persons

(c) comply, so far as the worker is reasonably able, with any reasonable instruction given by the rail transport operator to allow the operator to comply with this law.

The instruction the individual knowingly and deliberately breached was Transport for New South Wales’  fatigue management standard.

During the sentencing it was revealed that the individual had a history of being reprimanded for similar breaches of the standard on multiple occasions, dating back to 2015.

An appeal against the size of the penalty was dismissed earlier this month with additional costs awarded against the defendant.

ONRSR acting chief executive Peter Doggett said the outcome sent a very clear message to rail safety workers about the importance of fatigue management.

“Fatigue is readily recognised as a major factor in road accidents but what isn’t as well understood and appreciated is how dangerous it can be in a rail environment,” he said.

“Whether you are talking about people driving trains, network controllers, track workers or protection officers, the risks associated with being unfit to work because you are physically or mentally tired are extreme and the results can be catastrophic.”

Under the RSNL, all rail transport operators are required to have a fatigue management plan as part of the Safety Management System that underpins their accreditation to run railway operations, while individuals have a range of safety duties.

Operators and individuals with questions about the safety duties of rail safety workers should contact the relevant ONRSR office.