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Michael Kilgariff

Ignorance no defence on coming CoR changes

July 2017

The substantial changes coming to Chain of Responsibility (CoR) obligations under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), slated to take effect in the middle of 2018, will naturally have a substantial impact on those working with heavy vehicles.

However, the new requirements will also have a direct bearing on those working beyond the immediate operational environment.

It’s a realisation that is perhaps yet to dawn on many whose day-to-day attentions are focused outside the freight logistics industry. Yet, ignorance will be no defence when the new arrangements come into force.

As we know, the HVNL already imposes obligations upon those who consign, pack, load or receive goods as part of their business activities.

However, the coming changes will also impose a duty of due diligence on directors, which will require them to ensure that ‘all reasonably practicable’ steps have been taken to ensure that CoR obligations are adhered to. This is being done to achieve greater alignment between CoR laws and workplace health and safety (WHS) laws.

In practical terms, this means that over the course of the next 12 months, responsibility for CoR will move beyond the bitumen and extend its reach to the boardroom.

Compliance with these new arrangements will require far more than merely developing a checklist to be inserted among the pages of a company’s procedures manual. All supply-chain participants will need to develop a thorough understanding of their risks and obligations.

In many cases, this will require not only the provision of additional training for staff and subcontractors, but also a root-and-branch examination of businesses’ operational procedures.

Of course for many, the demands that come with running a freight logistics business – especially in a challenging economic environment – simply do not allow the time or resources required to develop truly comprehensive safety systems suited to their circumstances.

Recognising this reality, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has recently announced that it is joining forces with the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) to develop an industry-wide Master Code for heavy-vehicle safety.

This will assist all industry participants in understanding their CoR obligations with greater clarity, while also helping to establish a safer environment for all road users.

We know that around 98 per cent of Australia’s trucking businesses have fewer than 20 employees, and around 50 per cent are non-employing businesses.

It is unrealistic to expect that these organisations will be in a position to channel resources away from their core business activities in order to design bespoke systems that will guarantee their compliance with CoR obligations.

To help ensure compliance within the freight logistics sector and associated businesses, it will be necessary to provide practical guidance on safety measures, advice on board reporting practices and examples of risk controls that have been developed by the industry, for the industry.

It is towards this objective that the development of the Master Code is directed.

Establishing a clear, industry-wide Master Code will also provide greater certainty for operators by reducing duplication and red-tape, which so often adds to cost and administrative burdens for those running their own businesses.

To ensure the Master Code is accessible and relevant to the needs of industry, the ALC and the ATA will be undertaking a thorough consultation process with those working in the heavy-vehicle sector over the coming months.

This will include a major focus on its contents as part of the ALC’s Supply Chain Safety & Compliance Summit, being held in Sydney on 5–6 September.

Ultimately, this process will help to produce a Master Code that is applicable to the widest possible scope of organisations with HVNL obligations, and one that is capable of providing peace of mind when it comes to CoR for all supply-chain participants.

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