SES 'bound in red tape'

HEALTH and safety red tape is threatening to strangle the State Emergency Service's volunteer numbers in Ipswich and the Lockyer Valley.

Groups have had a boost in numbers this year following January's flood disaster but a growing list of training and competency courses is making it hard to convince new members to stay in the SES.

Examples of bureaucratic overkill cited include insisting recruits complete a two-hour course in how to climb a ladder safely.

Farmers with a lifetime on the land are also being asked to undergo courses in how to use chainsaws.

One long-serving SES worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the organisation was at threat if things didn't change.

"If they keep going the way they are there will be no SES," he said.

"They're ruining what it was set up to do."

National standardisation of training in recent years means new and existing volunteers now have to fulfil more criteria than ever before.

Ipswich Area Controller Arie van den Ende, a 33-year veteran with the organisation, said SES volunteers enjoyed better equipment and funding than ever before but training requirements were more cumbersome than ever.

"I was asked by the Flood Commission to put in a report and one of the things I highlighted was people that have trades behind them are not recognised unless they prove themselves," he said.

Volunteers are required to prove competency from everything from first aid to flood boat operations.

Applicants are able to complete a "recognition of prior learning" process but many experienced SES workers believe it is far too long and difficult.

Controllers instead encourage new volunteers to commit their weekends to completing courses from scratch believing it will be easier for everyone.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said it was time competency decisions were put back in the hands of local controllers.

"We have to start being smarter about the way we treat our volunteers and the SES," Cr Pisasale said.

"People like Arie know how to assess people.

"They use a lot of common sense and experience and are not going to put someone in danger.

"It's not about relaxing rules; it's about understanding that people in the job for years can make decisions at a local level."

Cr Pisasale said he had recent first-hand experience of the issue.

"In the last couple of weeks I've had to do four courses on re-supply and understanding sirens, that sort of stuff," he said.

"I've got my pieces of paper now and it doesn't make me a better person but I've made everybody happy."

Queensland SES executive manager Mark Bell acknowledged the frustration some group members felt but said SES volunteers needed unique skills.

"The key thing to remember is our volunteers are required to work in hazardous conditions," he said. "We expect these people to get on roofs in bad weather, to get in raging rivers and climb cliffs.

"They definitely need to be trained but there are certainly areas where we can do better in recognising pre-existing skills."



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