Fatigue laws must be reformed
Fatigue laws in Australia continue to be a challenge for road transport businesses.
The fatigue laws need reform and will be one of the critical areas addressed in NatRoad’s submissions to the upcoming review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).
Recent issues that affect members show why the current laws are not working.
In September State and Territory governments stopped the National Transport Commission (NTC) from addressing a gap in the fatigue laws that causes problems when transitioning from two-up driving to solo driving.
This gap in the law could have been addressed by making small, sensible adjustments to the law that would not reduce safety. Instead, members continue to risk drivers being fined when transitioning from two-up driving arrangements to solo driving, creating a practical disincentive to operate two-up systems.
The second issue considered by the NTC relates to the difficulties truck drivers have when travelling between non-participating jurisdictions (WA and NT) and HVNL jurisdictions.
Members complain that they must apply for two different work and rest regimes based on the amount of time they spend in WA and the NT or, if based in those places, when they leave WA and NT to make deliveries in the HVNL jurisdictions. Operators tell NatRoad that the HVNL rules are too rigid and prescriptive to effectively promote safety, and instead often create additional fatigue risks due to other factors impacting mental health and wellbeing, with heightened anxiety about compliance.
If a driver is twenty minutes away from home but the rules say he or she must take a rest break, then they have to stop, rather than reach home where they are more likely to have an adequate sleep.
Both issues analysed by the NTC highlight the nature of the current fatigue laws: they are highly prescriptive, complex and difficult to comply with. The current reliance on prescriptive work and rest hours and on-road enforcement using work diaries is not the most effective way to manage fatigue. On 1 October 2018, new Chain of Responsibility (COR) obligations were introduced in the HVNL.
Parties in the heavy vehicle supply chain now have a duty to ensure their transport activities are carried out safely by doing all that is reasonably practicable, including ensuring drivers do not drive whilst fatigued. NatRoad welcomes COR laws. But they conflict with the highly prescriptive detail of the fatigue laws.
Managing fatigue risk is dynamic and the rules should allow operators and drivers to be responsive to individual circumstances without compromising safety.
For the performance-based duties under COR to work as intended, the fatigue management laws must allow a certain amount of flexibility within a total work hour limit. Risk management processes must be applied in relation to how operators schedule trips; roster drivers; establish a driver’s fitness to work; educate drivers in fatigue management and establish and maintain appropriate workplace conditions.
This approach may encourage greater use of technology to manage fatigue risks. In the short term, there remains a requirement to fix some of the holes in the fatigue management laws, highlighted in the recent NTC work on transitioning from two-up driving and travelling between HVNL and non-HVNL States and Territories. More importantly, the upcoming HVNL review needs to examine these laws afresh so we get rid of the fines for administrative errors in work diaries that do nothing to advance safety. Warren Clark CEO, NatRoad