To the public, Ophir Reserve was considered to be an asset and the responsibility of Cabonne Council.

However the site is designated as crown land and is managed by a Community Trust.

In such situations, it is important Council and the Trust understand their respective responsibilities.

This is reinforced considering Council had received two recent reports of near drownings, which highlighted the urgent need to manage known risks and reasonably ensure public safety.

Here’s how our team supported Cabonne Council through this process.

Beautiful Crown land

The Ophir Reserve is a camping area in the NSW Central West region.

As the reserve sits at the junction of the Lewis Ponds and Summer Hill Creeks, many people believe it falls under the care and responsibility of Cabonne Council.

However, this land was handed to a Community Trust in 2012. This Trust continues to manage the site and promote its attractions through neighbouring councils.

A close call at the causeway

While beautiful, the reserve has a causeway which provides a thoroughfare and access to the reserve that can sometimes be inundated with water.

In particular after significant rainfall events, the ferocity of the inflows into the river system can be extremely dangerous.

Recently, Cabonne Council received reports of two near drownings at the reserve following heavy rains. In one of those reports, the person advised they were walking across the road and causeway area, when their small child was swept under the causeway. Fortunately, the child came out on the other side and was physically unharmed.

Clarifying responsibilities

Since the Ophir Reserve is managed by a Trust, there is a division of responsibility between the Trust and Cabonne Council.

As such it is imperative both parties identify and understand who is responsible for what components and identify the associated risks present at the site. Council cannot and should not assume responsibility for risks that are not under their duty of care.

For risks that may come under another party’s responsibility, Council should communicate, consult, note all decisions, and develop formal agreements with stakeholders. This will ensure clarity of responsibility and accountability in the future.

Engaging Statewide for solutions

To clearly identify their areas of responsibility and decide on next steps, Council reached out to their Statewide Regional Risk Manager and JLT Account Manager for advice and assistance.

We were requested to undertake a site inspection at the reserve to:

  • Conduct a visual inspection and walk-through of the site to identify risks and suggest risk treatments/controls
  • Determine and outline Councils areas of responsibility and accountability at the site
  • Determine and Outline third party stakeholder’s areas of responsibility and accountability at the site
  • Determine any additional actions Council can take to meet its duty of care

As part of discussions we also advised Council to investigate and determine that all third party stakeholders have current and appropriate liability coverage.

Through investigation it determined the site falls under the trust’s full control – and that Council is only responsible for the road that runs through the reserve, and the causeway.

Start with a holistic approach

Upon discussion with the Statewide team, Council decided that a holistic approach to the site would be best.

The first priority, therefore, was to find out why people were walking across the causeway to start with.

A quick check showed there was a significant monument on the other side which attracted visitors. However, there was no suitable parking near the landmark.

To address this issue, Council is now in discussions with the Trust to determine how they can assist with building a car parking area for safe access to the monument. There was also a sign advising it was a dual purpose or shared zone crossing which included vehicle and pedestrian access.

Appropriate signage is key

Appropriate signage assists in managing risks at similar locations where supervision is not available. Signs provide important information to visitors such as what is prohibited and what hazards exist at the location.

For guidelines, we referred Council to our Best Practice Manuals:

Note: Signs as Remote Supervision and Roads were two topics addressed in the 2022 Continuous Improvement Pathway Self-Assessments. These provide council with the ability to review current practices, identify gaps in council systems and development plans for improvement and reduction of risks.

Since then, Cabonne Council has:

  • Reviewed Best Practice Manuals for guidance on signs and roads
  • Engaged with its team to undertake a Signs as Remote Supervision assessment and developed a draft of proposed signage
  • Sought further advice and feedback from their Regional Risk Manager and Account Manager
  • Contacted the Ophir Reserve Trust members to start building a positive working relationship and discuss responsibilities and accountabilities in the management of the Reserve

Making plans for the future

Council has committed to allocate funding and resourcing to assist the trust, and can also access its dedicated risk management fund if required.

Council will also introduce an agreed process to keep everyone safe, so the community can continue to use site facilities with confidence. And to ensure that the public can enjoy the Ophir Reserve for many years to come.

We’re pleased that our team’s site visit and advice has supported Council’s efforts to focus on the right areas when managing risks at the reserve.

As a collective membership, it’s important that we continue to share our experiences – and that you know we’re always here to support you. If you need some advice and support with a situation at your council, please contact your Account Manager or Regional Risk Manager at any time.

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