Working together to protect our future

Know your workplace rights, an unsafe order is an unlawful order, you cant be ordered to do something unsafe.

That is the message to police officers from Northern Territory Police Association Vice President Chris Wilson following a recent dispute over safety and driver training in the Red Centre.

Alice Springss instructors were surprised when they were told to conduct potentially risky defensive driving training courses for Auxiliaries with vehicles not fitted with passenger brakes for trainers.

The extra brakes had been used in police training cars including four-wheel drives for more than 20 years, said Sgt Wilson who was the officer in charge of driver training from 2006 to 2011.

The instructors rightly complained to their Health and Safety Representative (HSR) that they had safety concerns, he said.

Sgt Wilson, who is a senior member of Command Training said he also raised his concerns through his chain of command, warning that training Auxiliaries in such a way was a safety issue that ignored the national Work, Health and Safety Act and NT Police policy.

This was a really unsafe decision, really unsafe. I said it was a safety issue to prevent crashes and save lives, that they shouldnt be doing this but the response was no, you are doing it, we were directed by email to use cars from Alice Springs without brakes.

However the Chain of Command rejected their worries and deemed it an acceptable risk, directed that the training course go ahead and that evidence of safety problems be documented and reviewed later.

This year was the first time that had ever happened, said Sgt Wilson. Thats not what happens in the safety world, if you take the safety control away you need to provide evidence on what your risk mitigation is and why that safety control has been removed.

Auxiliaries drive police cars and transport prisoners as part of their duties and the defensive driving course has been approved by the training and advisory committee.

We are teaching them a new system of vehicle control, a new way to brake, to make sure you have got the gears to corner etc.

An example of when instructor brakes are important is in instances when police are
approaching hazards such as intersections and are trying to get the system right and there is a risk of them not paying attention to whats going on around them.

I had to use the instructor brake on one corner in Alice Springs because we came up to a T intersection, I said turn right, we get there and hes only just braking, he got gears, starts taking off and theres a car on the left hand side coming towards us that he just missed it completely.

He was too busy working on whats going on in the car, thats quite common.

When police command continued to refuse to provide cars with instructor brakes, the HSR escalated and the matter, ultimately issuing provisional improvement notices (PINs), a formal process in which notice is given to resolve the issue with NT WorkSafe and the NT Police Commissioner notified.

Once that step was taken, the decision was reviewed and reversed, with appropriate vehicles with instructor brakes being provided to Alice Springs. It should never have got to that stage and it raised wider concerns about management making police unsafe, he said.

My point is I want to highlight to members that under the Work, Health and Safety Act, safety is everyones responsibility, its actually legislated.

If you identify a hazard or something dangerous, submit a hazard report.

The HSRs are police officers and your go to person if you are not having any luck with management, and they can take action under the Act.

As a Sergeant or HSR our responsibility is to the organisation, making them safe, reducing the risk for them, sometimes middle managers or some of the Executive dont realise that.