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Prime Mover Magazine

Safety… check?

Safety… check?

Heavy vehicle safety has frequently made the news of late, but the industry’s multi-faceted approach to institute improvements is still being widely ignored. Is it time to rethink our strategy?

It’s safe to say that safety has been the most passionately debated issue in commercial road transport for the best part of the past decade, yet mainstream news coverage has remained widely indifferent toward the industry’s efforts in the field.

But the disconnect could soon come to an end: With an updated Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) now in effect and a national roadworthiness check scheduled for May, the momentum is slowly shifting toward a more broad-based approach to safety, with new opportunities to educate the public and present the industry in a positive light arising around it.

But, what has to happen for the public to see the good and not just focus on the – highly sporadic and often misread – bad? “Improving safety must be based on achieving greater levels of awareness of compliance of industry participants’ Chain of Responsibility obligations, which is part of the Heavy Vehicle National Law,” says Michael Kilgariff, Managing Director of the Australian Logistics Council, pointing to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) efforts in the field.

He adds that the NHVR’s upcoming survey of a sample 9,000 heavy vehicles to obtain data to assess the standard of roadworthiness across the national fleet could help raise the level of awareness across the supply chain, and with it openness to new technology and processes: Both active and passive safety technologies continue to be incorporated into commercial vehicles, with anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception.

In line with that, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has signalled it will make heavy vehicle safety a priority for 2016, most prominently by conducting a number of safety focussed sessions during the annual Trucking Australia conference in June. “The message is clear – a heavy vehicle licence is only the first qualification needed for great drivers,” explains ATA CEO, Chris Melham – indicating that technology alone may not get the safety message across to the wider community.

“With issues like Chain of Responsibility, fatigue and load restraint evolving over time, it’s essential for businesses to be able to up-skill new and existing workers in these areas.”

Putting the driver in the focus, more and more manufacturers are now taking on a health and wellbeing focus, for example by providing more than the basic three points of contact for cab access. The Freightliner Argosy’s fold away steps set the benchmark in that context, and Kenworth now also has an option for its cab-overs with similar safety benefits. Meanwhile, Mack has developed a wider staircase that decreases the need for a driver to twist their body entering or leaving the cab.

On the other side, transport businesses are now complementing trip planning with healthy eating suggestions and active rest recommendations, hoping to ensure drivers are more alert and professional when confronting the general public.

A future draw card in that context – also promotionally – could be autonomous driving, as reducing the chance for driver error is a major factor touted by proponents of the movement. Already, Daimler brands Mercedes-Benz in Europe and Freightliner in the US have developed functional prime movers with autonomous capabilities that are able to operate with reduced driver input, and the resulting media feedback has been widely positive.

More importantly, though, the technical lessons learned in the development of these high-tech trucks will flow quickly down to the more conventional trucks used every day. In fact, some of the systems they use – for example technologies to measure and alert for driver fatigue – are already available in Australian trucks right now and could at some point be integrated with electronic work diaries.

Also freely available in the market are air or electricity powered landing legs, air operated turntable jaws and supported load restraint gates, all of which benefit the driver and demonstrate the industry’s growing commitment to safety. The challenge for industry bodies and businesses will be to convey their advantages to a broader circle both internally and externally.

Building on that sentiment, experts agree that safety must be approached from a more holistic perspective in 2016 to achieve larger cut-through. An important project in that context is site traffic management, where safe zones for drivers and other workers are assigned before the truck even turns a wheel.

As recent conferences like the ALC Forum in March have shown, driver behaviour around load restraint is especially targeted by authorities, and the industry has responded with a range of improvements from load restraint curtains to ratchet load binders, alongside additional training and checking procedures.

Also affecting safety is maintenance, with the complexities of modern trucks forcing many a small and medium-sized operator to outsource servicing to specialisists with the latest training and equipment.

For the astute, this can even extend to independent crack testing of dog trailer drawbars and the planned replacement of components subject to fatigue at intervals well short of their expected working life – both noteworthy initiatives that remain widely unarticulated across the industry and beyond.

Professionalism is also spreading in the tyre and wheel segment, with wheel nuts now often checked with a calibrated torque wrench rather than relying on an air operated rattle gun that may either leave nuts loose or so over-tight that the threads are stretched on the wheel studs.

Back inside the truck, the rapid expansion of the use of dash cams has produced mostly positive results and can be a driver’s best defence in proving that they were innocent parties in incidents should they occur. They also demonstrate that industry is taking accountability serious on a legal level, too.

By relaying these developments to the general public, industry has the potential to make a positive impact on mainstream media coverage, and with it the image of entire transportation sector.

2016 could be just the right the season for such a sea change, with developments on every level of industry pointing in the right direction.

The only unknown is the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT) much debated Road Safety Remuneration Order and its impact on smaller-sized operators across Australia. While aiming to positively impact safety, critics argue it could instead push them out of the market and stop equipment from being updated with new technology.

“The Australian trucking industry already has the most comprehensive road safety ‘watchdog’ in the NHVR,” says Michael. “It already polices trucking companies to ensure safe driving practices.”

Agrees Chris, “The only effective solution to dealing with the remaining small recalcitrant minority of the industry who choose not to comply with the Heavy Vehicle National Law is to ensure effective enforcement of the CoR laws – including by closing the remaining gap in the law with the anticipated CoR laws on roadworthiness.”

The story has appeared in the May edition of Prime Mover. To get your copy, click here.

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