2002 STUDY TOUR
RISK WHILST MANAGING ASSETS
MANAGING RISK WHILST MANAGING ASSETS
Group Manager – Engineering & Infrastructure
Knox City Council
This report provides an
overview of the experiences and information gathered during my participation
in the 2002 International Study Tour to Canada, United States of America and
England to study “Managing Risk whilst Managing Assets”.
There are a number of key observations emanating from the
study tour which could be applied within Australian Local Government
· Professional officers must be kept up-to-date with new technology, maintenance practices, safety standards, driver behaviour standards, new road rules and other intelligence which relates to road safety, and use that knowledge to understand and address safety issues in the field.
· Councils must have systems in place to collect and disseminate key information across the organisation to all relevant staff within the organisation to ensure “prior knowledge” is used to the best effect.
· Councils should develop strong policy positions in regard to asset maintenance, service standards and response times having regard to its community needs and its own capacity to resource implementation of the policy.
· Policies should not be overly ambitious and must be able to be implemented.
· Councillors and Council officers must work within the policy framework. If the policy is not implemented or followed, its credibility will be challenged in law.
· Councils should undertake regular inspections of their assets for risk management purposes. Councils who understand the condition of their assets and have prioritised upgrade programs to address any hazardous situations in accordance with their adopted policies, will be in a stronger position should an injury occur which prompts legal action against the Council.
· Councils must have in place comprehensive information management systems which collect and record data relating to inspection programs, customer complaints, maintenance programs, repair orders, safety audits and other information related to the management of the asset. This information becomes vital when assessing claims for damages against Council and in the defence against legal action.
· Always investigate reported hazards and feed the outcomes back to relevant staff as information to be included in future safety audit programs.
· Councils should adopt a culture of always providing a prompt response once a hazard has been identified, either by staff or a member of the community. It is not acceptable to leave dangerous situations unattended.
· With the emergence of “No Win, No Fee” legal firms, Councils should strongly defend all damages claims unless it is clear that Council caused the fault which lead to the injury. As an industry, Local Government needs to take a strong stand to make it difficult for litigation to occur. Evidence was presented in England that Councils that allowed themselves to become soft targets for litigation attracted a significantly higher percentage of claims.
This report presents the findings of an international study
tour which I participated in during 2002. My objective was to investigate risk
management practices being undertaken by Councils as they managed their assets.
During the tour, the following authorities were visited:
· City of Richmond, Richmond, British Colombia, Canada
· City of Surrey, Surrey, British Colombia, Canada
· City of Redmond, Redmond, Washington State, USA
· City of Kirkland, Kirkland, Washington, USA
· City of Independence, Independence, Missouri, USA
· Department of Transport, London, UK
· London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, Hammersmith, London, UK
· Bristol City Council, Bristol, UK
· Transport Research Laboratories, Crowthorne, Berkshire, UK
Oxford Shire Council, Oxford, UK
In addition, four days were spent in Kansas City attending
the 2002 American Public Works Association Annual Congress.
This report summarises information gathered through
discussions with senior officers from the abovementioned authorities and
observations made during the tour.
It focuses on the strategies, processes and practices the
organisations have put in place to minimise their risk as they manage the
infrastructure on behalf of their communities. This report does not attempt to
evaluate their asset management practices. It provides insights into how these
organisations prepare and respond in an environment where some sections of their
communities are demanding higher standards from them, and prepared to litigate
against them, if those standards are not met and an injury results.
CITY OF RICHMOND
The City of Richmond was incorporated on 10 November 1879
and achieved City Designation on 3 December 1990. It has a land area of 129 square kilometres and a population
of 156,000. The City of Richmond is
located on the western waterfront area of the Greater Vancouver Metropolitan
area and has an estimated commercial sector which generates in excess of 100,000
jobs. Forty nine percent of
Richmond’s land base is zoned agricultural.
The City of Richmond has a three-tier approach to risk
· development of policy
· a management and inspection program; and
This strategy is guided by Canadian case law and is
designed to reduce the risk of litigation to the municipality.
Of these three key risk management principles, policy
definition carries the most weight in law.
When considering cases involved in litigation Canadian law
will consider a Council’s policy position and how the administration
implements the policy. The court recognises Councils do not have unlimited funds
to do everything the community demands of it, so will look to Council policy to
judge if the Council has acted appropriately.
If the Council policy was developed considering community
expectations, balancing the various needs against available funds and was
“reasonable”, then the policy would carry significant weight as a benchmark
against which the Council’s actions were judged in the court of law.
Providing the administration followed the policy guidelines
then the Council would have some protection against successful litigation. If
they did not, the Council would have significant difficulty defending its
The City of Richmond management practices to support this
risk management approach are currently being reassessed.
Across their road and footpath network they currently have
an administration process where that they do not undertake pro-active safety
inspections. They have the view that this would increase their exposure to
successful litigation as it could be shown that either they knew of the risk
before an injury occurred or that they were negligent in their duty by not
conducting the inspections to a sufficiently high standard.
The City does however undertaken regular inspections of its
asset base for life cycle costing purposes within its asset management program.
The Council maintains a very clear and strong delineation
in this aspect on advice from its legal department to minimise litigation risk.
The Council operates a very efficient complaints response
system to ensure that any dangerous situations are investigated and actioned,
either through repair or make safe as a matter of urgency. The Council policy
identifies that a response must be initiated within 24 hours. The site is
investigated, corrective action taken as appropriate, either immediately or the
site fenced off and warning signs put in place until it can be repaired.
In addition, the administration ensures a comprehensive and
complete documented audit trail of action taken in response to each notification
is created and maintained. They advise that this is the best defence against
successful litigation as this can be presented before the courts and will show
that Council has acted swiftly and appropriately to all identified community
This process is the City of Richmond’s traditional
process and is clearly reactive and designed
to restrict successful litigation.
The Parks department is developing a more pro-active
approach collaborating with the Council’s insurance company. In playgrounds
and BMX parks, the staff are undertaking monthly safety and risk audits. From
these inspections, maintenance is undertaken to make the areas safe. This
process has the support of the insurance company and has reduced claims in these
areas of the Council’s operation. Through this process the Council has
identified over $1.0 million worth of upgrades which are required and have a
planned implementation approach over a ten year period. Once again, as the
Council has a planned approach and is operating within a policy framework, it
has a good defence should litigation result in this area of its operation.
To support its risk management approach, the Council critically reviews all claims made against it and strongly defends any claim it does not think it is liable for no matter what the settlement amount may be.
CITY OF SURREY
The City of Surrey is located south of the Greater
Vancouver area at the southern region of British Colombia. It is partly urban, partly rural, extending from the Greater
Vancouver area, south to the United States border. It is the fastest growing municipal district in Canada, has
an area of 325 square kilometres and a population of approximately 360,000.
The administration is currently operating in a financial environment where the Council has not increased its tax base for 5 years and is not expected to increase it under the current political arrangements. As a rapidly growing municipality, they have an increasing asset base and residents who have expectations which are increasing in both the environmental and service delivery areas.
The City of Surrey recognises that whilst it cannot
eliminate risk, it must do its best to manage the risk. The Council has both
Risk Managers and a Legal Department within its organisation.
The organisation functions such that each service
unit/activity area is responsible for its own risk management. The legal
department and risk managers are available to support the units in their
operational activities. This organisational approach has ensured that management
of risk is spread across the organisation and has become part of the corporate
To continually reinforce the need to manage risk both from
a litigation perspective and for public safety, the Council has an extensive
internal communication program. New risk exposures are communicated immediately
throughout the organisation, a quarterly employee newsletter is produced, trends
are reported to the various departments and trends and results are reported
through the Council’s annual report.
Further reinforcement across the organisation results from
the claims handling process. As part of the process, claims are discussed with
the front line employees, the immediate supervisors and the divisional manager.
Everybody who has a direct impact in considering a risk reduction strategy is
involved in the claims settlement process.
Backing up these processes and cultural reinforcement
strategies is a well structured customer service system. The Council has
developed well founded policies regarding response times, intervention levels
and document control. These, coupled with a sound knowledge of the condition of
the Municipality’s assets, place the Council in a strong position to defend
any litigation action.
The City undertakes regular inspections of its assets for
safety and risk as well as condition.
As a guide, they undertake the following inspection cycles:
· Every four years - road pavement management system inspections.
· Annually - footpaths in residential areas.
· Half yearly - footpaths in commercial areas.
Quarterly – road shoulders, catch basins/ditches, signs,
potholes/ruts, road markings, bridge decks/guardrails and sight lines.
The City of Surrey approved a Claims Management Policy in
1997. This stated that it would
settle claims based solely on legal liability.
Councillors and staff must refer all potential claims directly to the
Risk Manager without discussing the specifics or responsibility with the
claimant. The Risk Management
Department and the Legal Department work closely together to then resolve the
Following this process, the City of Surrey have only paid
15% of claims that were reported during the past ten years.
To assist in settlement of claims, the Council has delegated authorities
for settlement. These are:
Small claims, limit currently $10,000 – Risk Manager.
Small claims to a limit of $50,000 – Jointly by Risk Manager, Department Group Manager and Finance Group Manager.
Claims to $50,000-$350,000 – Jointly by the City Manager, Risk Manager, Department Group Manager and Finance Group Manager.
Claims in excess of $350,000 to Council.
STATES OF AMERICA
CITY OF REDMOND
The City of Redmond is located in the Greater Seattle area
of Washington State and is the home of Microsoft and Nintendo.
It has an area of 19 square miles and a population of approximately
Public liability risk has always been present in the USA
system. Some States in the US have
caps on the amount of payout associated with risk issues, for example Colorado
has $150,000 maximum payout. The State of Washington, which the City of Redmond
is a municipality, has no cap. As with Australia, Councils can find themselves
co-defendants in litigation and, similar to Australia, if a Council is found
partially liable and the co-defendant cannot pay, then the Council may end up
paying 100% of the costs awarded to the claimant.
Like the Canadian system, the American legal system
recognised that Councils do not have unlimited funds and must make choices in
the way the funds are allocated. The City of Redmond through its political and
budget process has made comparative choices between services it provides and as
to how much money is allocated to each. When
considering its allocation to asset maintenance, risk management is a factor
Council has established policies which define standards for
asset maintenance within the community. Funding allocations should be sufficient
to ensure that the policies can be implemented. If the standards that have been
established are reasonable then they hold strong credibility in law.
By working within the policy framework of Council, its risk
from litigation is reduced. If the administration move outside this policy
position or the politicians instruct action outside the policy, then the
credibility of policy in defending action is substantially reduced.
The City of Redmond has regular asset surveys conducted for
both life cycle and risk management purposes.
When risks are identified, they are prioritised and placed into a
maintenance program. This
prioritisation is undertaken having due regard to Council’s policy position.
The City of Redmond has a high net worth population which
is drawn upon by the Council to create a strong revenue base. They place an
emphasis on high community safety standards as a priority as well as sound asset
maintenance and rehabilitation.
The Council also has a well-developed customer response and
tracking system to record when complaints are lodged, actions taken and
responses made. They strongly defend any litigation action against them and a
key to a successful defence is having a fully documented audit trail of actions
taken to repair any defect in the field.
The legal system in America
is a little different to that in Australia, however as law becomes more
internationalised, American precedence is starting to be drawn upon in
Australia. During the visit to the City of Redmond, I had the opportunity to
discuss risk management with the Senior Council officer responsible for the
provision of engineering services and physical infrastructure. During those
discussions, he indicated that he had been personally named as co-defendant with
Councils forty to fifty times in litigation action and has been personally sued
on seven occasions. This action directed at him personally was as a result of
him holding the senior engineering position within Council. The legal profession
regard the position as having influence over the way Council undertakes
maintenance repairs in the field and therefore a party to any litigation action.
In all cases to date, action
has been unsuccessful. He indicated that his best defence is to operate to the
highest professional standards and work within Council’s policy position.
CITY OF KIRKLAND
The City of Kirkland is located within the Greater Seattle
area, has an area of 10.5 square miles and a population of 46,000 people.
It is the sixth most densely populated area in the State of Washington
and has approximately 145 miles of road and 108 miles of footpaths.
The City of Kirkland has no asset management system, has
chosen no regular inspection regime for its asset base and manages its risk
through a complaint-based system. It
is reactive. However, once a
complaint is lodged, it responds expeditiously to those complaints.
It has no formal Council adopted policies and no formal
stance on intervention level. They
have adopted the strategy that if they do not know of a problem, then they do
not have to fix it. The City relies
on a reactive approach where once a problem is identified or reported, it
responds quickly to solve the issue. It
keeps very good records and can locate an audit trail to defend its processes on
any issue associated with risk within its municipality.
CITY OF INDEPENDENCE
The City of Independence is located on the eastern side of Kansas City in Missouri. It has a population of 113,000 people, an area of 78 square kilometres. It has approximately 532 miles of streets to maintain, 38 bridges, 42 traffic signals and 30,000 street signs. Approximately fifty percent of the municipality is zoned for agricultural use.
The Council uses recognised standards for the provision of
infrastructure. The City has
developed codes which follow Engineering Guidelines, many of which are developed
by the American Public Works Association. There
is consistency in these codes across the group of Councils which make up the
Greater Kansas City area. The
standards have been developed from the National Standards as developed by the
United States Department of Transport.
The Council has only recently purchased a pavement
management system and is developing an inventory of its assets.
Prior to the computerised system, they had a paper based system.
The City Independence undertake a regular condition and
risk inspection program of their assets. They
use a customer request and response system to manage their citizens’ requests
for service. This system has full audit capabilities and its information is used
to validate Council’s action in the event of litigation.
The City Council recognises the duty of care for its
community and that the City should correct the faults.
The City Council introduces Ordinances to define
responsibility, set standards and determine response times across its services.
If the service has been undertaken in accordance with the Ordinance, then the
Council has a strong legal defence should litigation occur.
The Council has its own law department which defends
litigation action against the Council. Generally the Council is responsible for
an injury if it results from:
· A foreseeable event.
A direct result of the Council’s action.
Legal cases are fact driven so the Council places great
importance on having detailed information relating to when instances are
reported/observed, how long to repair, what was done and when an area was
Although the Council does not have a comprehensive asset management plan, it does have reasonable understanding of its asset condition. It does regular inspections for condition and risk but is still very dependant upon its residents advising them of hazardous situations. When a hazard is identified, they have a requirement to respond and make safe within twenty four hours. As well as recording the initial complaint, the customer request system tracks the progress of the Council’s repair and provides an audit capability if Council is called upon to defend its actions should an injury have occurred at that location.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT
The main road responsibility in the United Kingdom rests
with the four countries:
There are 270,000 kilometres of local roads in England and
10,000 kilometres of motorways. The
English Government has a duty to maintain the motorways.
The local roads are generally maintained by Councils.
The Department of Transport, in its role as a highway
agency, sets the standards for the trunk roads.
To maintain the 270,000 kilometres of local roads, there
are 169 road authorities. These are
usually Shire Councils, municipal districts or unitary authorities.
These highway authorities have no nationally accepted
standard so they can determine their own standard. Generally this is guided by common law determined by the
In 1989, the English Government legislated to remove
non-feasance protection from highway authorities across England. Since that
time, highway authorities have been managing risk in an environment of common
Recently, the English Government has produced a document
“Delivering Best Value in Highway
Maintenance”. This provides
guidance to Councils as to the issues they need to consider when setting
standards for their local road network.
The objectives of this code are:
· To encourage the development, adoption and regular review of policies for highway maintenance, consistent with the wider principles of integrated transport, sustainability and Best Value.
· To encourage a focus on the needs of users and the community, and their active involvement in the development and review of policies, priorities and programs.
To encourage harmonisation of highway maintenance practice and
standards where this is consistent with users’ expectations, whilst retaining
reasonable diversity consistent with local choice.
· To encourage the adoption of an efficient and consistent approach in the collection, processing and recording of highway inventory, highway condition and status information for the purpose of both local and national needs assessment, management and performance monitoring.
To encourage the adoption and regular review of a risk management
regime in the determination of local technical and operational standards.
The recommendations within the code of practice are not
mandatory on authorities although it is becoming accepted practice across a
number of the English highway authorities.
The English Government has committed significant funds
towards improving road conditions across England.
It commissioned a national road condition survey. The first survey two
years ago, found local roads to be in the worst condition they had been in for
30 years and were projected to continue to deteriorate to unsustainable levels.
The Government determined that it would stop this
deterioration by 2004 and set a target to tackle the backlog and have it
completed by 2011. The Government
has allocated $31 billion over ten years to meet this commitment. The national
road survey will be conducted every two years to measure progress towards
improving the road network.
To receive a share of this funding, Councils must commit to the Best Value principles. As part of this program they must develop and implement a five-year continuous improvement plan. This plan is subject to inspection by the English Government’s Audit Commission and must be reviewed every five years.
The British Government has also moved to ensure that the
roads are fully accounted for within the balance sheet of Councils and that each
Council must have introduced full depreciation for their road network by 2006.
The Government has committed to developing an objective method to allocate road maintenance funds to Councils to be sure the highest priority needs are funded first.
The English Legal Situation
Risk management is becoming a big issue for Councils in
England due to two new concepts emerging in English Law.
There is an increasing responsibility for organisations and professionals who
manage highways to be up-to-date in the areas of new technology, hazard
identification, safety standards, road maintenance practices, driver behaviour,
new road rules and anything else that impacts on the safety of the road to its
users. This concept in law can
weaken a Council’s defence if it could reasonably have foreseen that harm
would occur given the facts and circumstances. An example is if the Council,
through its technical staff, should have reasonably known that a particular circumstance was hazardous and an injury
occurred, then the Council could be held liable. Hazards caused by poor design,
improper installations, poor work practices or ineffectual maintenance fit into
This concept at law expects that if someone in the organisation either knew or
should have known about a particular circumstance, then the organisation is
deemed to have known. To an organisation, this includes the sum of corporate
knowledge. That is, organisations such as Councils now need mechanisms to
collect and disseminate information which enters the organisation to staff who
may have a need to know that information. A practical example would be if a
staff member receives information from a member of the public that a certain
area is unsafe. If that information is not passed onto the relevant person to
arrange its repair then the Council could be liable if an accident occurred as
the organisation knew of the hazard and had not effected repairs.
Some legal firms are seeking this information under Freedom
of Information as part of their investigation prior to commencing legal
proceeding against Councils.
As well these two common law concepts, highway authorities
in England have to work within the Highways Act 1980.
Section 41 (1) states
The Authority who are
for the time being the highway authority for a highway maintainable at the
public expense are under a duty .…....
to maintain the highway.
Section 58 (1) states
In an action against
a highway authority in respect of damage resulting from their failure to
maintain a highway maintainable at the public expense it is a defence (without
prejudice to any other defence or the application of the law relating to
contributory negligence) to prove that the authority had taken such care as in
all the circumstances was reasonably required to secure that the part of the
highway to which the action relates was not dangerous for traffic.
This Act clearly places the responsibility for maintenance
and safety of the local road network on the highway authorities which are
usually the local Councils.
TRANSPORT RESEARCH LABORATORIES
The Transport Research Laboratories have their main
research facility at Crowthorne in England. They are a not for profit
internationally recognised research organisation which provides advice and
solutions for all issues relating to land transport.
During the visit to TRL, the group had the opportunity to
meet with Mr Paul Forman, Head of the Investigations and Risk Management Group,
who provided an insight into cause and affect of accidents on roads based on the
organisation’s research findings.
He indicated that England has the lowest casualty rate of
accidents in the world at ten per day. The government is still looking for ways
to reduce the accident rate even further.
Research undertaken at TRL has shown that the contributory
factors in accidents are:
· Road Environment 23%
· Road User 95%
These figures have resulted from investigations of
accidents with a wide range of severities.
There is some joint responsibility between the contributing
figures so the figures do not add up to 100%. The analysis has been undertaken a
number of times over the past 10 years and on each occasion the relative
percentages have remained the same although the reasons may change.
In the event of an accident and/or injury on the local road
network, this research clearly shows that the road environment over which the
highway authority has control, can be a contributor to the accident. This places
the highway authority at risk of litigation or legal prosecution.
Following the investigation of an accident where a death or
serious injury has occurred, an organisation or an individual may be charged
with gross negligence. It is
expected that legislation will soon be introduced into the English Parliament to
define the unlawful act of corporate killing. Road deaths with contributory
negligence may now be treated as unlawful killing.
This has sent shock waves through highway authorities as
the actions of a highway authority may soon be investigated as part of a road
death. Under this proposed legislation, the highway authority could be charged
for unlawful killing in the criminal courts.
Councillors and senior officers have a duty to manage the Council’s risk exposure in this emerging legal environment.
In the English legal context, liability is assessed in the
· Criminal – beyond reasonable doubt.
Civil – on the balance of probabilities.
Municipalities are vulnerable in these circumstances as
they must show that they have taken reasonable measures to minimise the risk by
having a safe road environment. The
legal process puts a lot of emphasis on this.
To protect themselves from litigation and to manage the risk,
municipalities must have risk management plans, have appropriate record keeping
and sound audit trails in place.
If the audit trail is in place and the Council can show
that it has acted reasonably within the English legal system, it is likely that
the liability may be reduced.
The key question to be asked is “Who knew what, when?”.
that a defence be structured around a defendable maintenance strategy. The
strategy should be based on:
· Traffic data (flow-on composition).
· Hierarchy (including footpath and cycleway).
· Character of road, setting, type, environment.
· Inspections and monitoring survey.
· Use of “prior knowledge”.
· Interim warning.
· Making safe of defects.
Consideration of national and international best/good practice
Expectations may be high within the community and may
exceed available finance. It was
recommended that funding be allocated through a rational prioritisation process
giving consideration to all facts known to the Council at the time.
The main vulnerabilities to this proposed approach are:
· Setting over ambitious policies.
· Inconsistencies in achieving policies.
· Being unable to demonstrate rational prioritisation of work.
· Failure to use prior knowledge.
· Advising the work force not to spot deficiencies.
Spending on discretionary powers rather than absolute duties.
When introducing a risk management plan to an organisation,
it must be consistently applied across the organisation.
When discussing the removal of the non-feasance defence,
which had previously been available to Australia highway authorities, the TRL
representative was of the view that a community should not reintroduce statutory
immunity. It was his view that it is only through legal pressure that highway
authorities will continue to strive to improve the safety of the road network.
It is clearly evident that Councils need to have a system
in place to manage the road network for:
LONDON BOROUGH OF HAMMERSMITH & FULHAM
This Council is one of the inner-metropolitan Councils within the Greater London area. It covers an area of 6 square miles and has a population of 166,000. It was one of a handful of Councils to be judged 'excellent' by the English Government’s Audit Commission in its first national assessment of local authorities' overall performance (published Thursday 12 December 2002) and the only Council to achieve a score of 48 out of 48.
The Council has a strong risk management focus and has
comprehensive processes in place to manage risk. The Council does not show its
assets in its balance sheet and does not currently depreciate its assets. It
does not have a long term asset management plan.
The Council has adopted the Best Value Code of Practice in
relation to asset management and is endeavouring to implement its
The Council has no legal staff on its payroll as the
Engineering Department manage operational components of asset and risk
Approximately 150 claims are made against the Borough each
year, of which 10-15 get to court.
As a result of the emerging trends in English common law,
the Borough initiated a comprehensive and ongoing road safety audit program. As
hazards are identified they are assessed, prioritised for improvement and
The Borough has developed a computer based records management system that records all information relating to field maintenance, public liability claims and repairs following customer complaints. This is used to support the legal defence of litigation.
The Council has identified that a planned approach is far
better than a reactive approach as they have quantified that the instant
response to repair is equal to six times the cost of a planned, programmed
BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL
Bristol is located on the west coast of England, enjoying a frontage to the River Severn estuary. It has a population of 400,000 people.
management at the Bristol City Council takes a far higher priority than asset
management. The Council does not
currently have a full inventory of its assets and those it has are not
It is focussed as a highway authority on managing the road
network to minimise risk to both itself and the public.
Although maintenance is undertaken by private contractors who work on a
schedule of rates contract, the Council has maintained control of its risk
management processes. Council takes calls from the public, identifies what
action is required and issues a work instruction to the contractor who repairs
the defect. Subsequently reports of
the repair are completed which are fed back into the data management system
maintained by the Council.
All claims are lodged to the Engineering Department and
assessed on a priority basis. Each
decision is made following an assessment in regards to misfeasance, nonfeasance
The Council has over 250 claims per year with most of the
claims being property damage.
Council endeavours to achieve the requirements of Section
41 of the Highways Act which states that Council must keep the highway safe.
Bristol City Council follows the Code of Practice for
Maintenance Management – Delivering Best Value and Highway Maintenance July
2001. They see this as the industry
benchmark and they endeavour to work to its guiding principles.
OXFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
The Oxfordshire County Council is a Council approximately
30-40km west of London, has an area of approximately 1,000 square kilometres and
a population of 600,000 people. The
City of Oxford, which is one of its main municipal areas has a student
population of 100,000.
The Oxfordshire County Council recognises its legal
obligations and manages the road network through a risk management process.
It has prioritised work in accordance with the Best Value guidelines and
all public requests are recorded and inspected immediately.
The County Council operates a computerised work allocation system run
through a call centre to manage and administer remedial work.
The County Council does not have a comprehensive asset
database and so relies extensively on local knowledge to manage situations.
Their principal defence is to stick to the policies they
have adopted and keep good records to ensure an audit trail is always present.
Advice from the Oxfordshire County Council is that municipalities must develop a strong policy which clearly indicates what will and will not be done against the Country Code. The policy must be endorsed by the Council and, once adopted, resources must be provided to implement the policy as the organisation will be held liable if the policy is not followed.
The study tour provided the opportunity to review how risk
was managed across a representative group of Councils in three countries.
Although they had varying qualities of asset management plans in place, they had
a strong focus on risk management in the provision of road related services to
With globalisation, emerging trends in both legislative and
common law in the other countries may find their way into the Australian
environment so as an industry we need to be cognisant of these issues.
Changing trends in common law reflect community attitudes.
It is now becoming accepted in English law and is an emerging trend in Canada
and the USA, that municipalities through their professional staff are expected
to create and maintain a safe environment for their communities.
Whilst this is currently recognised as a social and political
responsibility in Australia, I believe that it will only be a short time before,
either through legislation or common law precedent, municipalities in Australia
will face a similar legal situation. The
recent loss of the non-feasance immunity previously enjoyed by road authorities
is the first step along this path.
With the evidence in England that road condition cannot be
discounted as a contributing factor to the cause of road accidents, Councils as
road authorities must become far more pro-active in their management of the road
network and the associated risks. With
road deaths now being investigated as unlawful killings in England under
criminal law and road toll reduction measures plateauing in Australia,
governments who have previously looked to England for guidance may do so again.
To assist Australian Local Government organisations to meet
this challenge, there are a number of key observations emanating from the study
tour which could be applied:
Professional officers must be kept up-to-date with new technology,
maintenance practices, safety standards, driver behaviour standards, new road
rules and other intelligence which relates to road safety and use that knowledge
to understand and address safety issues in the field.
Councils must have systems in place to collect and disseminate key
information across the organisation to all relevant staff within the
organisation to ensure “prior knowledge” is used to the best effect.
Councils should develop strong policy positions in regard to asset
maintenance, service standards and response times having regard to its community
needs and its own capacity to resource implementation of the policy.
Policies should not be overly ambitious and must be able to be
Councillors and Council officers must work within the policy
framework. If the policy is not implemented or followed, its credibility will be
challenged in law.
Councils should undertake regular inspections of their assets for
risk management purposes. Councils who understand the condition of their assets
and have prioritised upgrade programs to address any hazardous situations in
accordance with their adopted policies, will be in a stronger position should an
injury occur which prompts legal action against the Council.
Councils must have in place comprehensive information management
systems which collect and record data relating to inspection programs, customer
complaints, maintenance programs, repair orders, safety audits and other
information related to the management of the asset. This information becomes
vital when assessing claims for damages against Council and in the defence
against legal action.
Always investigate reported hazards and feed the outcomes back to
relevant staff as information to be included in future safety audit programs.
Councils should adopt a culture of always providing a prompt
response once a hazard has been identified, either by staff or a member of the
community. It is not acceptable to leave dangerous situations unattended.
With the emergence of “No Win, No Fee” legal firms, Councils
should strongly defend all damages claims unless it is clear that Council caused
the fault which lead to the injury. As an industry, Local Government needs to
take a strong stand to make it difficult for litigation to occur. Evidence was
presented in England that Councils that allowed themselves to become soft
targets for litigation attracted a significantly higher percentage of claims.
The study tour would not have been a success without the
support and co-operation of a number of people and organisations.
The Municipal Engineers Foundation of Victoria.
The tour leader, Keith Wood
The other tour participants,
Michael Edgar and David Hannah
The Staff of the:
· City of Richmond, Richmond, British Colombia, Canada
· City of Surrey, Surrey, British Colombia, Canada
· City of Redmond, Redmond, Washington State, USA
· City of Kirkland, Kirkland, Washington, USA
· City of Independence, Independence, Missouri, USA
· Department of Transport, London, UK
· Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, Hammersmith, London, UK
· Bristol City Council, Bristol, UK
· Transport Research Laboratories, Crowthorne, Berkshire, UK
· Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford, UK