In earlier posts I have commented on wearing seat belts with:
- Victoria Ambulance: Seat belts in an ambulance – Victoria (September 17, 2014); and
- NSW Rural Fire Service; Wearing seat belts with the NSW Rural Fire Service (January 22, 2015).
Following that last post a correspondent has brought to my attention the tragic circumstances of the death of a CFA volunteer in 2008. This volunteer died when the appliance he was travelling in rolled and he was ejected from the cabin. He was not wearing a seat belt.
The Coroner investigated the death and handed down a report in April 2010. The Coroner was critical of a culture in the CFA of not wearing seat belts on the fire ground notwithstanding a CFA Standard Operating Procedure that required everyone to wear a seat belt unless they had a medical exemption, were the driver when reversing, or where actively engaged in ‘pump and roll’ operations ().
Despite this SOP no-one in the fire appliance was wearing a seat belt and, as noted, there was a strong culture and belief within the CFA that seat belts were not necessary. According to the coroner this ‘reflects adversely on the CFA leadership at Brigade level’ ().
The seat belt exemption for persons in emergency vehicles is the same in both Victoria and NSW (and one can infer, given it’s in the national Road Rules, all jurisdictions). As noted in the post regarding the RFS, just because a person is not required by law to wear a seat belt it does not mean that their service cannot require members to wear their seat belt, and this case identifies the tragic consequences that can happen if they do not.
In this case the CFA gave evidence of what they had done to make it clear that there was a need and an expectation to wear seat belts. They had produced a DVD, a ‘Seatbelts Frequently Asked Questions’ and a revised SOP to better explain the ‘pump and roll’ exception. These had been sent to each Brigade Captain with instructions to show the DVD and discuss the issues with the members.
The coroner concluded by saying (at ):
I commend the actions the CFA have taken in response to [this volunteer’s] death being, in particular, the work they have done to try to rectify the lack of knowledge about the application of SOP 12.03 and to improve a culture that promoted unsafe practices amongst the volunteers who give up their time, and regrettably at times, their lives, to help protect Victoria form the ravages of bushfires. I encourage the CFA’s ongoing work in this area. Periodic reinforcement is an important component of all health and safety education.
He recommended (at ) that:
… the job description for CFA brigade captains include the responsibility for the endorsement and enforcement of the Chief Officers’ Standard Operating Procedures.
As noted in my earlier post regarding the RFS, the exemption from wearing seat belts is an exemption for the purposes of the Road Rules only. It does not mean that one should not wear a seat belt and if the service has issued a directive that seat belts are required to be worn, as both the RFS and CFA have done, then a volunteer is obliged to comply.
It should also be noted that in states that have adopted the National Work Health and Safety scheme, which includes New South Wales but not Victoria, the obligation to comply with SOPs that relate to safe work practices is reinforced by the relevant Work Health and Safety Act (see for example Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) s 28(c)). In Victoria the obligation is upon an employer, in this case the CFA, to take reasonable steps to ensure that the volunteers comply (Occupational Health and Safety Act 1994 (Vic) s 23) but there is no reciprocal legal obligation upon the volunteers because, under that older legislation, volunteers are not equated with employees.