Safety Guidance - Safe Operator: Plant Assessor
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Simplifying Safety:

Our Conceptual Model

Safe Operator

This following focuses on the Safe Operator element of the Plant Safety Management Model when used on a construction project.
To make the coverage of issues as specific as possible, the article is based around a Civil Contracting business, however the framework can be applied to any business operating plant and equipment.

Safe Operator

Ensure the operator is competent to operate the plant
and perform the task required

Focus Area 1: Operator Training & Competency Assessment

Focus Area 2: General Safety System Knowledge

Focus Area 3: Site & Task Specific Procedures & Knowledge

Safe Plant

Ensure plant is safe for use

Focus Area 1: Detailed plant hazard assessment review against:

  • OH&S legislation
  • Australian and International Standards
  • Leading industry practice

Focus Area 2: Daily inspection and fault rectification process

Focus Area 3: Proactive and robust maintenance regime

Focus Area 4: Standard Safe Operating Procedure (SOP)

Safety Guidance

Focus Area 1: Operator Training & Competency Assessment

Focus Area 2: General Safety System Knowledge

Focus Area 3: Site & Task Specific Knowledge

Safe Environment

Ensure site and task hazards are identified, assessed and controlled

Focus Area 1: Site review

Focus Area 2: Project task review

Focus Area 3: Prepare the WHS Management Plan

Focus Area 4: Implementing high impact elements of WHS Management Plan


It is fair to say that almost every safety incident involving plant and equipment is caused or contributed to by a lack of knowledge or a failure to implement that knowledge. Due to the nature of the construction industry, there is inevitably a heavy reliance upon “administrative controls”, which include individual competencies, site rules, safe work procedures and so on.


The reason administrative controls are at the lower end of the hierarchy of controls is principally because of the need for people to learn and maintain competencies, and understand, remember, and follow procedures.


As we all know, this is OK if there are a limited number of competencies required and procedures to follow, however gets increasingly difficult to manage as it becomes more complex. We will never avoid the reliance on competencies and procedures in the construction industry, however by having robust and regimented processes aimed at educating, testing and confirming competencies and knowledge we can reduce the inherent risk associated with reliance on these administrative controls.


Ensuring a “safe operator” can be divided up into 3 key focus areas of activity, graphically represented as follows:

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 9.41.50 am
Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 9.42.00 am

Arguably the most important and onerous of the focus areas, this requires active management on an ongoing basis.


The principle behind this focus area is the need for operators to be trained and certified as competent to a transparent standard. This helps to reduce the risks associated with varying operator skill by aiming to ensure a minimum standard of competency.


National Vocational Education & Training (VET) System The National VET system provides a framework to allow nationally recognised certification of training and competency assessment tailored to the needs of a broad range of industry segments including Civil Construction.


The Diagram above illustrates the structure of the VET system as it relates to competencies of plant operators in Civil Construction.


The Resources and Industry Training Package RII09 includes some 767 Dedicated Units of Competency and 180 Imported Units of Competency (Total 947). Details of RII09 and its components can be found here . High Risk Work Licences are included in relevant training packages.


Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) are authorised to train and certify competence against certain units of competency and qualifications under the various training packages.

In light of the VET structure, we can now consider operator training and competency assessment set out in the following table.

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 9.44.58 am

This focus area is principally aimed at ensuring operators have been through relevant inductions, and have a good working understanding of the safe systems of work employed by their organisation to manage safety risks, no matter where they are working. The table below sets out the two key areas of work in this focus area:

Safety Guidance

This Focus Area relates closely to the subject of the last Plant Safety Management Model article entitled “SAFE ENVIRONMENT”.


In the SAFE ENVIRONMENT paper, we outlined the process for ensuring site and task risks are managed on a construction project


Ensuring a SAFE OPERATOR is concerned with making sure personnel are aware of site specific procedures and requirements for every project that they work on. The table below sets out the two key areas of work in this focus area:

Safety Guidance



Whilst each focus area is relatively simple in itself, managing all of them together, particularly for a large workgroup can become a big job.


Like any big job, it needs to be planned, scheduled and followed up. Project management skills are therefore important.


The planning should start with the development of a competency matrix for employees and regular contractors. This matrix should include a list of roles and/ or staff on one axis, and a list of competencies/training/ knowledge required on the other axis. An example of a competency matrix is set out here.


Once the matrix is complete, training requirements then need to be determined for each competency, along with decisions regarding periodic retraining and verification of competency.
Capturing the resulting work in a calendar helps to remind when any form of training or competency assessment is due.


As operations become larger, more resources need to be devoted to managing the process of ensuring all personnel maintain their knowledge and competency in the three key focus areas. Many larger organisations utilise learning and information management systems to assist in managing these obligations.




The objective of this article is to try and demystify the process of ensuring a safe operator and safe operation of a piece of plant.

Whilst it would have been easier to focus just on training an operator and making sure they can use a machine, we have taken a holistic view of what it takes to ensure a safe employee, safe plant operator and safe site worker.


By combining the systematic process outlined in this SAFE OPERATOR article, with the processes described in our SAFE PLANT and SAFE ENVIRONMENT articles, development of a complete and thorough system of work becomes simpler and easier to understand.


That is not to say it is easy or takes no time, however these are aimed at helping you direct your resources to the appropriate areas in order to diligently manage safety risks.


From here it is our intention to develop further tools to assist you to follow the processes outlined in the Plant Safety Management Model. We welcome your feedback and ideas to assist with this process.


Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. This is not intended as legal or expert advice for your specific situation. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the content of this information. Please contact us for further assistance – see form below.

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