Safety, Standards & Regulation

National risk-based approach to fatigue management needed: Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission has called for the final inconsistencies in the national approach to rail regulation to be removed to improve competitiveness in the sector and increase safety.

The recommendations come from the Commission’s National Transport Regulatory reform inquiry, which examined the efforts since the 2009 COAG reforms to bring together state-based regulation of the transport sector in a national approach.

These reforms led to the creation of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Safety National Law, however the Productivity Commission found that state-based differences were still hampering the sector.

One area where there needed to be further national harmonisation is in the area of fatigue management in rail regulation, as state-based differences continue to exist. The Productivity Commission recommended that ONRSR should be empowered to lead a risk-based approach to fatigue management, rather than prescriptive requirements.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the Productivity Commission’s findings, noting it was up to the states to now ensure that productivity gains could be implemented.

“The Productivity Commission’s recommendation for a nationally-consistent risk-based approach to fatigue management is good news for the rail industry, but support from the New South Wales and Queensland governments will be critical if we are to actually achieve change.”

Overall, the Productivity Commission found that the reforms implemented since 2009 have improved safety in the rail industry and that rail has progressed further than other transport sectors that were part of the reforms, namely the road transport and domestic maritime sectors.

Sue McCarrey, ONRSR chief executive and national rail safety regulator, highlighted that significant progress has been made.

“Measures taken over the past eight years have underpinned a reduction in the regulatory burden on operators that has in turn allowed for a greater safety focus within industry. In fact, while only one of many measures of safety on the rail network, it is worth noting that rail-related fatalities reached a five-year low during 2019-2020.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the government welcomed the report.

“We will carefully consider all of the recommendations within the report and undertake vital consultation with regulators, jurisdictions and industry stakeholders to prepare a response.”

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham welcomed the report and pushed for a further national approach to the harmonisation of regulation.

“ALC has always believed in one rule book for one country allowing road and rail operators to develop consistent national safety systems. This will improve efficiency and consistently and so lead to enhanced safety outcomes.” he said.

In addition to regulatory reforms, the Productivity Commission highlighted processes and practices that could improve the transport sectors. For rail, the various technical standards, operating codes, and procedures set by network owners is identified as a barrier to the industry.

Improved data on compliance costs could balance the requirements for cost recovery in regulation with where regulation is most onerous. McCarrey said that ONRSR is working on a cost recovery model with industry.

“ONRSR is currently using the closing months of 2020 to consult with industry and governments on a model based on operators’ risk profile and the regulatory effort required by ONRSR. The focus here is not on generating more money from fees but rather on ensuring the cost of regulation is recovered from those areas of industry where the most effort is expended.”