Safe railways for Australia

Safety Message - Rail Safety Officers: Powers under Rail Safety National Law


ONRSR’s rail safety officers (RSOs) are our primary interface with accredited rail transport operators and they are based in each of our offices around the country.

At the outset it is important that all operators understand that RSOs can enter a railway site without the permission of an operator. This is an important legislative power and one that an officer will not use unless he or she believes it to be necessary in order to uphold the law. Of course, if an officer does use this power, they are under direction to immediately identify themselves and provide proof of identity in the form of an ONRSR identification card.

In addition to these entry rights, RSOs have a wide range of powers relating to enquiry, investigation and direction of individuals under the RSNL, including being able to:

  • search a place, rail infrastructure, rolling stock, motor vehicle or other on railway premises;
  • take, retain and make copies of documents;
  • use and operate equipment to access information or examine items;
  • secure a site (to protect evidence that might be relevant for compliance and investigative purposes or ensuring safety);
  • seize items;
  • issue directions to give information or documents;
  • obtain information, documents and evidence.

Rail safety officers can be asked to complete an induction to a site, or submit to a drug/alcohol test, but have the discretion to refuse should the request present an immediate hinderance or obstruction to an officer’s urgent need to exercise their powers.

When a rail safety officer is on-site, it is the legal responsibility of operators and their staff to answer all relevant questions, provide assistance to the officer and not hinder an officer’s work in any way.

RSOs have the power to compel rail safety workers to answer questions and/or provide documents, and operators are reminded that it is an offence to provide false or misleading information (including verbal information) or documentation.

In summary the three primary ways RSOs can compel information under Rail Safety National Law are:

  • Using s154 to require the production of documents and answers to questions once a rail safety officer has entered onto railway premises;
  • Using the delegated power under s20 to obtain information, produce documents and appear before a person to answer questions; and
  • Using s168 and/or s168A to require a person to supply their name and address, and to produce specific types of documents, respectively.

This information will be included in the next edition of The ONRSR Way, which will be released to operators later this year.

To discuss any aspect of this advice please do not hesitate to contact your local ONRSR office.

Further reading: A Guide to Rail Safety Officer Worksite Visits

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