I am asked this question from a member of NSW SES.

NSW SES Traffic Control/Management. Does a uniformed member performing traffic management/control as part of a SES community activity, require a qualification outside of the SES by a RTO or RMS? (grey card, Blue card ect). The reason why I ask is… I am from a rural area where the RFS & Fire & Rescue both do this as a community service, whilst training their members on crowd/traffic control. They do this on community events such as Triathlons, Festivals, Street Marching ect & it gives them great exposure. We have members who have had qualifications through their work before but it has now lapsed, so they fear they may no longer be able to perform that duty, or allow/teach others to do it. Is there any light you may be able to shed on this subject please?

I have addressed this before, see:

I referred my correspondent to the first of those posts (Traffic Control by RFS volunteers (April 30, 2013)).  He replied:

 Just so I have this correct, at an accident, which as stated is inherently dangerous, we have the training (unrecognised by RMS), however RMS is happy for us to self-train & manage traffic with our high-vis PPE, cars lights etc to direct traffic however at a static planned road closure on a council road community event etc we need to pay a fee for a ticket to have their authority?

There is some confusion here.  The emergency services have the power to close a road –

  • The Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 24 says ‘The officer in charge of a rural fire brigade or group of rural fire brigades may cause any street or public place in the vicinity of a fire, incident or other emergency to be closed to traffic’;
  • The Fire Brigades Act 1989 (NSW) s 14 says ‘The officer in charge at a fire may cause any street or public place in the vicinity of a fire to be closed to traffic during the fire’;
  • The Commissioner of the State Emergency Service ‘may, if satisfied that it is necessary or convenient to do so for the purpose of responding to an emergency … direct, or authorise an emergency officer to direct, a person to … (c) not to enter the emergency area or any part of the emergency area (State Emergency Service Act 1989 (NSW) s 22).

That has nothing to do with RMS.  It is simply not an issue that the ‘RMS is happy for us to self-train & manage traffic with our high-vis PPE, cars lights etc to direct traffic…’  The RMS have nothing to do with it.  The fire services and the State Emergency Service have the powers they have.  They have an obligation to manage the risk that their workers (including volunteers) face and to implement whatever training they think is required based on an appropriate risk assessment (Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) s 19 and Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (NSW) r 39).

That doesn’t say that the RFS/FRNSW/SES can ‘direct’ traffic and, arguably, if there is a fire or other emergency the prudent thing may be to actually close the road – ie stop ALL traffic proceeding down the road but that does have costs to communities.  As I’ve said before ANYONE can direct traffic.  If there’s an accident and I stop to warn other drivers of the accident, I’m committing no offence.   I said this as a comment to my earlier post (Assisting NSW police with road closures (January 7, 2014)):

Here’s an example from 1880, Ned Kelly’s holding the populace of Glenrowan when one man escapes and flags down the train carrying police. Did he have any authority to stop the train? No, but it can’t be suggested it was illegal to flag down the train to tell the driver and the police that the tracks had been ripped up and Kelly was hold-up in Glenrowan.

So you’re driving along the freeway and you see a fire and you chose to stop and warn others; no authority is required. Of course the other driver’s commit no offence if they ignore you and travel past…

Let us go back to the question at the start of this post – ‘Does a uniformed member performing traffic management/control as part of a SES community activity…’ that became, in the follow up, ‘however at a static planned road closure on a council road community event etc we need to pay a fee for a ticket…’  They’re different situations.  The Roads Act 1993 (NSW) s 115(1) says ‘A roads authority may regulate traffic on a public road by means of barriers or by means of notices conspicuously displayed on or adjacent to the public road’.  One of the reasons that a road may be closed is to enable ‘a public road to be used for an activity in respect of which a permit is in force’ (s 115(2)(f)).   If there is a ‘planned road closure on a council road community event’ (emphasis added) then ideally there’s a ‘road closed’ sign.  Having a volunteer stand at that sign to confirm that the road is, indeed closed is not ‘traffic control’ and no permit is required.

If they are actually doing traffic control, ie determining when vehicles can pass, directing drivers where they can drive or park, actually operating a stop/go bat to regulate traffic in only one lane, then it really does beg the question of whether the agency should be doing that.  Not because it’s legal, or illegal, but is it safe for the volunteers and the drivers?

The Roads Regulation 2008 (NSW) r 6 says ‘For the purpose of enabling it to exercise its functions … a roads authority may appoint traffic controllers, or authorise its agents and contractors to appoint traffic controllers, to direct traffic on a road.’ RMS requires that traffic controllers appointed by it or it’s agents and contractors have the prescribed qualifications (http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/business-industry/partners-and-suppliers/traffic-control-training/traffic-control-training-overview.pdf). This is the RMS response to the assessed risk to ensure that at road works safety for everyone is maximised and the RMS meets its Work Health and Safety obligations.    If any roads authority other than the RMS wants to actually have someone direct traffic, they too have to consider how they will meet their Work Health and Safety obligations.  A community organisation that needs help to direct drivers in the parking lot are not closing a road and they are not a ‘roads authority’ but they still need to consider the risk to everyone and consider what is required.  The risk of course might not be much, people parking cars are in theory licensed and competent to drive and simply directing people to the next available spot may not be a significant risk, but it should be considered.

The real issue is not ‘Does a uniformed member performing traffic management/control as part of a SES community activity, require a qualification outside of the SES by a RTO or RMS?’ but ‘does a Roads Authority have to ensure that it engages qualified traffic controllers to perform traffic management/control as part of a community activity?’

When you put it that way, you can see that if the community organiser/roads authority asks the SES/RFS to act as traffic controllers, the SES/RFS can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on their own risk assessment. The roads authority also has to do a risk assessment and ask itself ‘do these people actually know what they are doing and what is the level or risk’.  You can see that if you are allowing traffic through one lane at a time and the controller at one end can’t see the controller at the other, then the risk is much greater than having someone stand at a road block sign and removing it to allow ‘authorised’ vehicles to enter.

Similar considerations apply at an emergency.  The officer in charge may decide to close the road and a volunteer parks the truck across the road and says ‘you can’t go past, there’s an accident or fire’ – that’s pretty low risk. The volunteers may also direct traffic – put the road block at an intersection and tell people ‘you can’t go down road A, so you’ll have to detour down road B’.   But if you want to set up a system with alternate flows down a single lane consideration would have to be given to asking the council to send out qualified traffic controllers.  Like everything that involves consideration of how long that will take, what are the traffic conditions, is there an alternate route, how long will it take to clear the incident etc

Conclusion

There is no specific regulation that deals with the traffic controller qualifications.  It’s a risk assessment/risk control measure. The RMS may require that contractors have the prescribed qualifications. The RFS/SES/NSWFR have their own power to close roads and it’s up to those services to decide what training is appropriate for their members given the risks they face and to decide what training they need to either close a road, or direct traffic on a road around a hazard.

A roads authority (such as a council) that wants to ‘control’ traffic (rather than close a road) at a public event would also need to consider the risk.  The safest option would be to ensure that anyone directing traffic (as opposed to staffing a road block) does have traffic control qualifications.   If a person directing traffic is not a duly appointed traffic controller, a driver commits no offence if they ignore their directions (Roads Regulation 2008 (NSW) r 6).