Safe railways for Australia

Safety Message: Track Worker Safety National Priority Project Update

ONRSR identified track worker safety as one of its inaugural national priorities in 2016, ensuring the issue was the subject of a sustained period of regulatory attention. This resulted in the delivery of a wide range of activities ranging from targeted inspections and post incident audits to interactive, theatre-based workshops for front line staff and supervisors. ONRSR has since re-doubled its efforts in this space with the initiation of the Track Worker Safety National Priority Project in 2019.

This standalone undertaking is taking a more data-informed approach to the issue and has involved the collection of supplementary information from rail infrastructure managers (RIMs) for track work safe working rule or procedure breaches since September 2019.

ONRSR requested operators to provide the supplementary information in addition to the reporting requirements under Regulation 57 of the Rail Safety National Law to gain a better understanding of the factors that could have contributed to these occurrences. These include types of protection in place at the time of breaches, the nature of breaches, the competency of rail safety workers and fatigue. The supplementary information has also helped rail safety officers make better informed decisions when determining the appropriate regulatory activity following such occurrences.

With over 12 months of data now collected, attention has turned to analysing the dataset to help inform ongoing education and engagement strategies with operators. Preliminary analysis of supplementary information for 321 track work safeworking procedure or rule breaches notified between September 2019 and September 2020 has identified a number of observations, summarised below:

  • In 56% of cases, the protection officer involved in the breach was a contractor.

  • Internal investigations were initiated by operators in over 92% of the breaches reported.

  • A third of cases occurred while worksite protection was being implemented or removed.

  • Over 40% of reported breaches were unique in nature and did not fall within a common theme. The most common type of breach amongst those remaining was worker(s) in the danger zone before the worksite was setup or after it was fulfilled, which accounted for approximately 23% of breaches overall (see chart below).

  • Although lookout working featured in around only 11% of breaches reported – this method of working accounted for 100% of cases where an incorrect method of worksite protection was adopted.
  • Inadequate communications represented 25% of all breaches associated with the lookout working method of protection, despite representing just under 3% of breaches overall.

  • Incorrect authorisation of protection arrangements represented almost 16% of all breaches associated with the agreed track time possession method, despite representing just under 5% of breaches overall.

Figure: Nature of track work safeworking rule and procedure breaches, 9 September 2019 to 8 September 2020. (Includes only those breaches where supplementary data was provided by the notifying operator.)

ONRSR is satisfied that the supplementary occurrence information collected from RIMs together with the intelligence gained through regulatory activities, provides a strong foundation for delivery of the Track Worker Safety National Priority Project through 2021. ONRSR will therefore no longer seek supplementary information on track work safeworking procedure or rule breaches beyond 30 November 2020.

Track worker safety remains an ONRSR national priority and in addition to our own national priority project, we are also supporting other industry initiatives in the field of track worker safety. These include:

  • Participation in the RISSB National Track Worker Safety Forum
  • Participation in the RISSB Safety Critical Communication Development Group
  • Co-sponsoring ACRI’s Track Worker Safety project to explore and identify current and emerging technologies to support track worker safety.

Further information on rail safety performance and some specifics around track worker safety and how we will continue to monitor performance and safety in this space can be found in ONRSR’s 2019-20 Rail Safety Report which will be publicly released in early December and be posted at