Celebrations put pressure on ambos
BYRON BAY ambulance officers are struggling with fatigue as they try to cope with the extra workload from schoolies’ celebrations, according to the Health Services’ Union (HSU).
Ken McIntosh, the HSU northern region organiser, said Byron Bay and Mullumbimby ambulance officers were currently inundated with up to 12 to 14 call-outs a night, compared with their usual workload of two to three at each station.
“The officers work all day from 8am to 5pm, but are being called back most of the night and end up having to go off on fatigue leave the following day, which puts even more pressure on the extra crews,” he said.
“The ambulance service knew months in advance that this workload was expected, but waited until the event happened before they tried to get extra shifts rostered on. As a result they have been chasing their tail trying to find extra staff at the last minute and some nights they are unable to do so.
“The officers that are normally on duty have to try to cope without any back-up and because of this they are too fatigued to work during the day. The workload is similar to the weekend of Splendour in the Grass, but Splendour has extra crews on and the festival pays for its own onsite ambulance.
“Both stations have four officers each – two on duty and two off. Every day the on-duty officers have to back up at night in an ‘on-call’ capacity. Effectively they are on-call 24 hours a day for the five or six days they are rostered on. That is until they are too fatigued to carry on.
“There is also a perception among officers that they shouldn’t take fatigue leave as it shifts the burden to their already overworked colleagues. The Ambulance Service would be fully aware of the overtime crisis, but still does not encourage overworked crews to go on fatigue leave. It’s left to the individual officers to make that call.
“With the increasing population growth on the North Coast, and the number of major events they get up there, we should be looking at making Byron Bay a 24-hour service. If a serious incident occurred during schoolies we would have to question our capacity to handle it.
“Extra crews would have to be called in from surrounding towns leaving them without any ambulance crews.”
The Ambulance Service’s district duty manager, Greg Powell, disagreed with the union saying the service had rostered extra crews on during schoolies and assured the public they were fully prepared for a major incident.
“We have well-developed and well-exercised major incident and disaster management plans in place,” he said.
“If we haven’t had extra crews available we’ve rostered overtime crews for the schoolie period.”
Mr Powell said fatigue was a very individual thing from officer-to-officer, explaining that some officers could function well on four hours sleep and some needed eight.
“It is difficult for managers to go up to individual officers and say ‘you’re fatigued’ – although we can do that in certain circumstances – which is why we leave the onus on the officer,” he said.
“Under our fatigue policy if officers feel they are fatigued they are free to inform the duty officer. They can then go off shift for no work, or off for emergency responses if required. The service takes these issues seriously and is continually monitoring patterns of workloads so they can improve service delivery.”