This question comes from a volunteer with NSW SES. My correspondent says:
I understand that if we are in uniform and/or in a SES vehicle we must stop at the scene of any accident that we come across. I also carry in my car a spare set of Orange SES PPE. I have used this on occasions when travelling in my own car and come across an accident (where I have stopped, put on PPE and rendered assistance until Fire Rescue arrived). Is the first statement correct and in regards to the second statement can I use SES PPE and what obligations does this make to me personally and to the SES?
As for whether or not the SES volunteers needs to stop when in an SES vehicle see:
- RFS volunteers as roadside good samaritans (February 4, 2015); and
- Non-operational staff travelling in marked emergency service vehicles (NSW) (October 29, 2014).
Can you use the PPE? I’ll answer this from a lawyers’ perspective (as you would expect) and answer what obligations or difference would it make?
The first thing to consider is of course, safety. The point of bright orange PPE with reflective stripes is that it is visible, day and night. As a matter of common sense you put it on just as any worker with high-vis PPE would or should put it on if they found themselves working at a roadside accident.
What difference would it make if the PPE said ‘SES’ or ‘ABC Mining Company’? The NSW SES is the combat agency for floods, storms and tsunami. It is also the case that the SES is ‘to carry out, by accredited SES units, rescue operations allocated by the State Rescue Board’ (State Emergency Service Act 1989 (NSW) s 8). That does not mean that every member is trained in all aspects of SES tasks. The SES member who comes across an accident may spend all their volunteering time in a comms room and know nothing about road crash rescue or tarping a roof. Alternatively they may be an experienced rescue operator and community first responder. What they can do to assist at the accident will depend very much on their training and experience, not on the mere fact that they are a member of the SES. The same is true of the person from ‘ABC Mining Company’; they may be an underground miner with no relevant training, or they may be a company paramedic. What you might expect from them depends on what they know, not what their shirt says.
Let us assume something does go wrong and there’s some legal action (remembering NO-ONE’s been sued for rendering first aid at an accident) then the fact that you are in the SES could lead to an argument that you should have reacted as the ‘reasonable’ SES member but that is some fictitious ‘average’. Again the ‘reasonable’ SES member may have no more than a senior first aid certificate so the mere fact that you are in the SES cannot mean that you are expected to perform as a paramedic or some other rescuer. Not all SES members are rescuers so provided you did what you can within the limits of your training then you’ve acted reasonably.
If the concern is that your attempt at first aid made the situation worse, you would be able to rely on the Good Samaritan legislation (Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW)) to the effect that there can be no liability for acts done ‘in good faith’ that is with a genuine intention to help the person.
Whether you could rely on the protection provided by the State Emergency Service Act 1989 (NSW) s 25 would be debatable. That section says:
(1) A matter or thing done by:
(a) a member of the State Emergency Service, including a member of an SES unit…
does not, if the matter or thing was done in good faith for the purpose of exercising the functions of or assisting the State Emergency Service or the Consultative Council, subject the member, officer or volunteer personally to any action, liability, claim or demand.
At the time of being at an accident that you have just come across you are not performing any of the functions set out in s 8 though you would be once the other emergency services arrive and take control of the scene and if they ask you to continue with whatever task you are doing (s 8(g)).
Whilst I say the application of s 25 is arguable, I would find it hard to believe that either the SES or their insurer would want to be seen to argue that stopping and helping at a car accident was not an appropriate thing for an SES volunteer to do. The community funds the emergency services, including the SES to provide services in an emergency. It is part of the National Strategy on Disaster Resilience that we should develop resilient communities that must, in part, mean having members of the community who can assist such as SES and RFS volunteers. To suggest that they are not performing an SES duty when they stop and assist at emergency pending arrival of the other emergency services may be arguable, but it would be politically difficult to maintain.
I can see no legal reason why a member of the SES would not, or should not, put on their PPE if they stopped at the scene of a car accident. Their primary concern at that point is their own safety and that is what PPE is for.