Temporary traffic management embracing the leap

By Michelle Farrell, Technical Manager, Civil Contractors New Zealand.
By now we all know that the brand-new New Zealand Guide to Temporary Traffic Management (NZGTTM) has been released by the Transport Agency and the intention is for it to replace CoPTTM by around 2025.

But we’re all now asking: ‘so, what does this mean’?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 changed the way we did health and safety in New Zealand. We were introduced to the concept of a PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) and the idea that if you create the risk, you manage the risk – it cannot be contracted out to other parties.

The PCBU has the primary duty of care; the primary responsibility for people’s H&S at work. So, on a worksite, the lead contractor (or the business which has the greatest influence and control over the workplace) is ultimately responsible for H&S on-site.

But in addition to this, the emphasis is on everyone looking out for each other. So, we collaborate to minimise risk – if an incident happens on site, the law looks to everyone involved – the lead contractors’, as well as subcontractors’ H&S processes, the attitude of management and clients towards H&S, the actions of workers, including those that may witness unsafe activities occurring.

Somehow, temporary traffic management was treated slightly differently. We were handed a code of practice (CoPTTM), which prescribed to us what to do, and when. We got used to preparing Traffic Management Plans based on the rules in CoPTTM, having this plan ‘approved’, then having traffic controllers implement the plan onsite, while workers undertook the works.

Meanwhile, more people than ever are being killed at roadworks sites. Between 2017 and 2021, there were 43 fatal crashes and 287 serious injury crashes at worksites. So, it seems CoPTTM is not working to keep workers and road users safe.

Enter NZGTTM: the new Guide. If you create the risk, you manage the risk – the contractor is the PCBU, therefore primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of workers and the public. There may also be other PCBUs involved in the same contracting chain. However, we will no longer be able to simply refer to a code to tell us how to manage the risks.

There is, unfortunately, no safety fairy. We will have to look at the big picture; what is the environment where the work is being undertaken, and what are the activities involved in doing the work. This sounds very similar to the rest of a contractor’s day, doesn’t it?

Risk assessment is an inherent part of a contractor’s job. If we’re working in a confined space, with hazardous goods, lifting with a crane, or building a cofferdam to create a dry work area – the contractor must do a site-specific risk analysis, which looks at the specific environment and the specific activity and applies the hierarchy of controls to the task.

What is the ground like where the crane is sitting? What other work is happening around the area during the time of the proposed work? Are the operators trained and competent to do this work? Is the work beside a kindergarten where children play outside?

New Zealand is now moving towards a similar philosophy with temporary traffic management. The contractor needs to consider the specific environment and activities. All stakeholders involved must be consulted and considered.

Considering factors like schools, safe alternative routes, pedestrian access and more, a site-specific risk analysis is prepared, controls are listed, and plans are created to indicate the controls to be implemented after full consideration of all stakeholders and risks. This management plan now passes through the clients’ office – or their authorised agent – who then checks the risk analysis from their point of view.

They recall the sports field nearby gets particularly busy on a Wednesday afternoon, with high volumes of cars in the vicinity. This is noted to the contractor, who adds an additional control for a Wednesday afternoon.

Or, who decides to do a different task on Wednesday afternoons to avoid the increased risk? Or, points out to the client that this is only during winter months, and the work will be completed by then and therefore is not considered to be a specific risk for this activity at this time? It is not the job of the client or contract manager to tell the contractor how to do their job; this can result in a transfer of risk and liability to the client. In the same vein, it is not the client’s job to approve a contractor’s risk analysis.

Of course, everyone has a duty of care to ensure the job is being done safely and as per the plan. If it is noticed that the plan is not being followed (or cannot be followed), or that the environment or activity has changed and is not covered adequately by the plan, then yes, anyone who notices this has a duty of care to raise this with the contractor.

We are moving towards a more mature model which relies on collaboration, co-operation and adaptable practices. It relies on parties working together. We need to get ready for the leap.

While there is anxiety in the industry about this culture shift, we do not need to panic. The transition will be gradual (for now, nothing has changed, unless you’ve received a Notice to Contractor stating otherwise) and controlled.

Each part of the sector (clients, designers, contract managers and contractors) needs to take ownership for ensuring they understand their roles and responsibilities and we all need to work collectively to shift the culture towards being safer and smarter.

What can we do right now? For starters, get to know the new Guide. And if you have any thoughts or questions, there are plenty of people out there who can help and also industry technical and steering groups that can act as a conduit for information.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have a question or want to contribute.

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