Safe railways for Australia

Contractor management

Contractor management

Under the Rail Safety National Law (RSNL), safety is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders including the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR), Rail Transport Operators (RTO) and Rail Safety Workers (RSW) as well as those who supply or provide services to RTOs as detailed in section 50(1)(c) of the RSNL. The level of accountability that falls on any individual or group is related to their ability to influence and control the rail safety risks associated with the matter.

Those who carry out rail safety work for an accredited operator (e.g. design, commission, manufacture, supply, install, maintain or build anything used in connection with rail infrastructure or rolling stock) also have obligations – known as general duties – to ensure what they do is safe. This includes workers contracted under labour hire arrangements who undertake rail safety work.

Regulatory activities conducted by ONRSR have identified a number of concerns in relation to contractor management, including:

  • contractors being unaware of their duties and safety requirements under RSNL;
  • accountable operators failing to gain assurances that contracted work has been adequately performed;
  • ambiguity over who has effective management and control when several contracted parties are involved; and
  • concerns that a small, but not insignificant, proportion of labour hire workers are failing to meet the competency requirements for rail safety worker roles - particularly in relation to track work.
ONRSR’s expectations

As an accredited RTO under the RSNL has been deemed by ONRSR to have effective management and control over their railway operations, ONRSR will generally hold the accredited operator directly accountable for safety within the scope of their accreditation, due to their ability to influence and control the rail safety related matters within their operations. Following the principle that safety cannot be contracted out, this accountability and responsibility for safety remains with the RTO even when they engage a person or organisation, through contracts, to carry out rail safety work or railway operations on their behalf.

Contractors must be aware of their safety duties, while operators must be able to gain assurances about the adequacy of work performed for them. There should be clarity at all times in relation to who has effective management and control on site or in the operational environment. ONRSR also expects that all contracted workers meet competency requirements.

ONRSR’s actions

A register of all contractors working within the Australian rail industry has been established and so far more than 2,000 have been identified. A process to record all the necessary organisational and operational information on each of these entities is now underway as a forerunner to a more formal period of contractor engagement and education. In a subsequent phase ONRSR will focus more intently on compliance activities such as audits and inspections that are based on the intelligence and information ONRSR has generated in relation to contractors and the education and advice provided. ONRSR’s intention to engage directly with contractors is not an approach that has been widely used in Australia to date, but it is one that has many potential benefits - particularly in relation to ensuring all parties are aware of their safety obligations. Through open lines of communication, it is ONRSR’s expectation that the full range of benefits can be exploited, including of course, significant improvements in overall safety performance.

Related information

Ty Graham – Director, Operations (Melbourne Office)

Last updated: 2 February 2021