Today’s question comes from a NSW paramedic whose
… enquiry or question relates to Paramedic fatigue and how NSW Ambulance currently manages and assists its officers with mitigating their on-shift fatigue. Recently there has been several on shift and post shift vehicle crashes that are attributable to fatigue. This I understand involves Paramedics not being given access to their crib breaks due to significant caseload and short staffing.
Could you advise or discuss the legal ramifications of the control/coordination centre staff have surrounding the duty of care they have to operational crews under their care who have not gained access to crib breaks?
If during or after a 12 1/4 nightshift, an operational paramedic was to have a fatigue related motor vehicle crash, would there be any recourse against the coordination staff who have a duty of care to those in their charge?
Would there be any recourse against the coordination staff? I suppose there could be some internal process if they had not complied with internal policies. One would hope that would be in the nature of training and assistance rather than disciplinary action as I can’t imagine coord staff deliberately choose not to give crews their break ‘just for fun’. If we’re talking legal recourse – liability in negligence or breach of WHS law my view is there is no chance of recourse.
The coordination staff are part of the ‘system’ as are the on-road staff. The coordination staff don’t determine how many ambulance officers or ambulances are available on any given shift; they don’t determine the demand for ambulance services; they have to implement the fatigue management policy set by the employer, not by them – and they can’t say to a triple zero caller ‘look I’m sorry the nearest crew are on dinner break, stand by we’ll be there in an hour’.
If there is some negligent failure to have or implement a fatigue management policy that failure will be a failure by the employer not the coordination centre staff member personally. That’s true whether your considering negligence law or work health and safety law. The obligation to manage risk belongs to the Person Conducting the Business or Undertaking (the PCBU) and it employs the paramedics and coordination staff to do that, but the responsibility stays with the PCBU.
It may be argued that governments should allocate more resources. Remember that questions on the allocation of resources are not justiciable – that is they cannot be determined by a court (Graham Barclay Oysters v Ryan  HCA 54; Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) s 42). If the government allocates more money to ambulance services that comes at a cost to other services. How governments allocate resources is a political not a legal issue, so we get to vote for the government that will spend money the way we want them too, we can’t sue to persuade them that our priorities should be the government’s priorities. An injured paramedic cannot sue either the government or the ambulance service to say that they should have allocated their budget and resources in a different way to protect that person from the risk that eventuated as that is just one of the risks that have to be managed with finite resources. If you can’t sue the government/ambulance service for not having more staff you certainly can’t have an action against the coordination staff.
What I find distressing about this question is what it suggests about morale and division in the service. There’s no suggestion that ‘we’re in this together’. If there are a lack of adequate resources relative to demand that impacts upon everyone including the coordination staff who, no doubt, feel the pressure of trying to get resources to those that call and trying to give the on-road crew their breaks and down time. The coordination staff like the on-road staff have to manage with the resources they have. For on-road staff to query whether there can be a personal recourse against their colleagues in coordination is concerning, to say the least.
The duty of the coord staff is to do their job within the parameters set by the employer and to coordinate the crews that are working that shift. They have to manage competing demands in particular the demand for ambulance services and the need to allow crews their rest breaks.
If crews can’t get a rest break because of demand for services that is not the fault of the coord staff. Even if there are things they could and should do (eg call in staff who were not rostered) then any negligent failure will fall to the ambulance service, not individual officers.
The [modified] question was:
If during or after a 12 1/4 nightshift, an operational paramedic was to have a fatigue related motor vehicle crash, would there be any [legal] recourse against the coordination staff who have a duty of care to those in their charge?
The answer is: No.