Safe railways for Australia

Perisher Blue Pty Ltd case study - Developing worker competence

This case study highlights better-practice risk management and the deployment of competent workforce by a NSW rail transport operator.

Perisher’s story demonstrates how strong leadership and internal communication around risk management can help build a competent workforce.

Perisher benefited from effective leadership that took the initiative to establish a tailored competency framework relevant to the scale and complexity of its operations. It applied that framework against specific risks and risk controls relevant to its operations. This enabled the organisation to focus on using competency to reduce its safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

  • Perisher’s operation
  • Worker competence
  • Defining rail safety work
  • Using the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)
  • Getting assistance
  • Safety management system
  • Working with contractors
  • Messages for other operators

The following questions and answers are excerpts from ITSR’s interview with Perisher’s General Manager Systems Compliance and Resort Services, Richard Tuck (RT).

Perisher's operation

Richard Tuck - Perisher Blue Pty Ltd General Manager

Perisher Blue Pty Ltd
General Manager Systems Compliance and Resort Services,
Richard Tuck (6)

ITSR: Can you describe your rail operation and how it fits in with your broader business?

RT: Perisher owns and operates the Perisher Ski Resort, including the Skitube Alpine Railway (Skitube), an isolated rack-drive railway comprising 8.5 kilometres of single track through the Kosciusko National Park in NSW.

Skitube provides an important link between Bullocks Flat, Perisher Valley and Blue Cow transporting approximately 40% of guests to the resort in winter in an environmentally friendly, safe and reliable manner. Patronage increases when road access is restricted by snow and ice.

ITSR: How many employees do you have and what percentage of your staff are rail safety workers?

RT: Perisher has a total of 135 permanent staff, growing to approximately 1200 during winter. We have 17 rail safety workers in summer and up to 40 during winter.

Worker competence

ITSR: How important is staff competence to your business, and specifically in Perisher’s rail operation?

RT: Staff competence is extremely important to our success. Amongst other things, Perisher operates and maintains aerial passenger rope ways and other ski lifts, a fleet of track and wheeled vehicles, carries out civil and building works and operates a significant food and beverage business.

PBPL's workshop and major spares storage area

PBPL’s workshop/major spares storage area (4)

Our mission is to deliver exceptional experiences for our guests in an environment that is safe, reliable and enjoyable. Competent staff underpin the delivery of all services, including ensuring that we deliver safety and reliability in everything we do. Safe and reliable operations are so important for our reputation.

Summer is a time for routine and scheduled maintenance on all railway infrastructure and rolling stock as well as a time for system review and the training of staff for the coming ski season. Seasonal train crew and concourse staff will relevantly undergo refresher training and/or be inducted and trained in appropriate rail safety worker activities. Staff do not start work without going through the appropriate competency refresher or training.

ITSR: How many different types of rail safety worker would you have at Perisher?

RT: Perisher has train drivers, duty controllers, rail electricians (high/low voltage and signalling), track Inspectors, railway fitters and the management team which provides oversight of safe working.

Perisher also engages contractors to service certain high voltage reticulation infrastructure, including traction motors, geotechnical contractors who inspect, monitor and investigate our tunnels and tunnel support structures. We also have specialist civil engineering contractors who inspect, monitor and investigate our steel and concrete bridges, piers and bridge footings.

Defining rail safety work

Wheelset maintenance

Wheelset maintenance -
Perisher has a well equipped maintenance facility (3)

ITSR: What process did Perisher use to determine what constituted rail safety work and who is a rail safety worker?

RT: Firstly we made sure we had a clear understanding of the requirements amongst the entire team at Skitube, which  included our partner registered training organisation (RTO) at this briefing stage.

We reviewed our rail accreditation to reconfirm the scope of our permission to operate and consulted widely within our team to investigate all of the elements of section 7 of the Rail Safety Act 2008 and how they might apply to the rail safety work carried out.

Our staff developed a rail safety work task analysis and we then facilitated a review of our risk register to identify where ‘competence’ was identified as a risk control. After much discussion, we developed a matrix format to tabulate the links between our:

  • identified rail safety work
  • the hazards arising from that work
  • where our operations, maintenance and system development and monitoring activities acted as a risk control.

Working with the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)

RT (cont): The consultation process with our staff and the RTO was key to successfully identifying the impacts of the legislation.

Our competent trainers and assessors identified the relevant units of competence from the Transport Logistics Industry’s TLI10 and the EE-Oz UET09 training packages from the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) which, once implemented would ensure the competence of our staff.

We then sent our information package to our partner RTO, the Transport Industry Skills Centre (TISC) in Canberra, to assist with our review of identifying the appropriate AQF units of competence. Perisher has had a long working relationship with TISC.

TISC understands our business well and we welcomed and appreciated its input. Our internal review of the package using our own competent trainers/assessors in parallel with the TISC review, identified tasks that were not adequately covered by the AQF units of competence.

By referring back to our risk register we were able to highlight the deficiencies in the AQF coverage in relation to our need in respect of risk controls. These deficiencies were addressed through the development of ‘Perisher’ units of competence for those tasks not covered by the AQF.

ITSR: Section 21 of the Rail Safety Act 2008 requires rail transport operators to make reference to the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). Given you have a reasonably unique rail operation (rack railway – 1:8 grade) was there any benefit in referring to the AQF units of competence?

RT: The AQF provided a good base set of units of competence, however, understanding the scope of your operation and referring back to your risk register helps you understand the limitation/s of the coverage of the AQF and the boundary where you may need to start developing your own specific units of competence based on the skills required to manage the unique hazards identified.

Getting assistance

PBPL's Electric Motive Units

PBPL’s Electric Motive Units -
Note in the foreground the rack
system in the four foot to assist
the train to negotiating the 1:8 grades. (1)

ITSR: How did you go about getting assistance?

RT: Perisher first engaged TISC in 2004 to assist to further develop  competency framework for rail safety work. We thought it important to engage with the most effective RTO for our business needs. In our case we needed experience in the TLI and EE-Oz industry training packages.

In addition, over that same period, it is our opinion that the facilitative approach by the NSW rail regulator [ITSR] has been helpful, not just on this topic, but on other system improvements.

ITSR: By the sound of it, the AQF units of competence, although useful, required tailoring in some areas to meet your needs. What process did you go through to develop your enterprise attainments?

RT: We found the requirement to refer to the AQF straightforward and through the review process we recognised where the AQF units were incomplete for our needs. Through a consultative approach with our staff, collaboration with the RTOs and reflecting on the risk control measures captured in our risk register, we were able to identify the areas that required enterprise competency attainments.

The outcome will be that certain types of rail safety work will have a mixture of AQF/enterprise competency attainments, while other types will only have AQF attainments.

Working with contractors

PBPL's workshop and major spares storage area

PBPL’s workshop/major spares storage area (5)

ITSR: Do you apply similar principles when outsourcing work to skilled contractors?

RT: We don’t rigidly apply the AQFT to all contractors, however before any work can commence, the contractor must satisfy Perisher that it can ensure its staff have the necessary competence and experience to carry out the task. That said, it is a requirement that contractors meet our expectations on the competencies required to do the work. It follows that in some cases these expectations are informed by SME such as SMEC.

ITSR: How did you get your staff and contractors on board?

RT: We work hard to keep an open and ongoing engagement between our managers, staff and contractors on all of these matters. We are fortunate to have a competent and committed team and a strong safety culture at Perisher. Contractors have been ready and willing to meet our requirements and typically understand the importance of effective safety management.

ITSR: What role did the management team play in this program?

RT: Perisher’s Board has set out its expectations for effective safety management and the management team are able to communicate a consistent message about the objectives. The management team is responsible for governance over the project and provided mentoring and facilitation during the process.

Messages for other operators

ITSR: Reflecting on the work you have done on your competency framework, what message would you give to someone who was about to undertake a similar program?

RT: I can only comment on our context, however key areas for our success were the development of mutual trust and empowerment and collaboration at all levels within the team, which provided the opportunity for the open transfer of safety information across the company.
We made sure we communicated the expectation and provided the training and support to the system developers and those who needed to implement and comply with the system. We used our SMS as the vessel to capture safety information and the platform to communicate the requirements of the competency framework.

We believe that the best results will be achieved by using a risk-based approach to the project underpinned by sound risk management knowledge and skills at all levels within the team.

We realised from the beginning that a risk based approach to competency management would provide the best opportunity for harm minimisation and hence the protection of our reputation which we saw as good business practice. After all, our guests and employees want to be safe and comfortable when they use our facilities or work at our sites.

ITSR: The rail industry has an ageing workforce and many new players due to outsourcing. Do you have any ideas on how the industry could work together to capture its knowledge and skills to further improve the delivery of a competent workforce?

RT: We are not a large player in the rail industry and are not in a position to tell larger operators how to do their work, however, we can testify that following a risk-based collaborative process can provide a good platform to capture ‘good proven practice’ for future training and assessment through delivering a competent workforce.