Periodic transitional phases are not uncommon in industry. In commercial road transport these shifts within the sector are often essential to keeping it viable and functional.
A seismic shift occurred in 2018 when the primary safety duty on all parties under chain of responsibility legislation was applied at once to trucking businesses, the consignor or consignees.
As it now imposes due diligence obligation on company directors and executives, the legislation has evolved past the point of penalising truck drivers for driving with undue care.
As one of the most dangerous industries in Australia the necessity to weed out lax or negligent practices as it pertained to compliance have been viewed as a must to enforce regulations and improve safety. This has resulted in an industry wide onus on parties in the supply chain being responsible for proactively managing the risks associated with their transport activities.
Fines of up to $3 million dollars for businesses who fail to do so, have made it imperative that all parties involved in the COR identify and manage risks rather than reacting when there is a possible breach of law.
COR is now the legal foundation upon which supply chain safety is maintained and strengthened including vehicle maintenance, repair and fatigue management. While failures in the area of compliance might be minor, more often than not the penalties are not.
In the worst case scenarios, where breaches are not only common but flagrant, it can deeply impact the wider community and is sadly, the stuff of national headlines.
Indeed, no amount of image rehabilitation for companies and industry will suffice for compliance failures when collective professionalism is treated as the exception rather than the rule. Widespread industry consultation by the likes of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and SafeWork is helping to identify the highest priority risks and assisting with responses to the issues.
Safety Around Your Vehicle Compliance Project is one recent undertaking in which SafeWork inspectors are speaking to operators on the requirement to have safe systems of work in place when carrying out activities around heavy vehicles.
It goes without saying that operators who effectively maintain their vehicles are less likely to be involved in an incident. This is now supported unequivocally by critical road crash data shared earlier this year in a report by insurer NTI and the NHVR. The report studied the relationship between vehicle standards and safety performance.
In finding clear links in two categories the report noted that the frequency for poorly maintained wheel and tyre defects increased by 32 per cent and was 26 per cent higher in cost claims for commercial road transport businesses.
Poorly maintained couplings accounted for a 29 per cent increase in frequency. While the report was careful not to suggest causation between crashes and defects it did confirm a distinct correlation between operators involved in a greater number of claims with trucks in which couplings, wheels and tyres were not well maintained.
Although the task to monitor and stay on top of all areas that can affect commercial road compliance can appear daunting it needn’t be. Companies that specialise in fleet management software have developed new product offerings that promise solutions to the challenge inherent in actioning everyone across the chain of responsibility in real-time.
Having consulted with former members of the NHVR to better understand the expectations of inspectors, SG Fleet developed Inspect365 as a tool that mitigates risks for fleets via an entirely digital process so that a record is lodged and kept for access should it be required later on.
Anyone using Inspect365 can log a defect the moment it is recognised. At that point, an electronic record identifies the issue and the workshop manager, for example, is then able to access the record from the time it was logged.
This real-time visibility is particularly practical for drivers who, in the event they encounter an issue with the vehicle, can immediately pull over and make note of a fault by entering it into the system.
NHVR Director Vehicle Safety and Performance, Peter Austin has acknowledged the importance of regular and effective maintenance regimes across the heavy vehicle fleet.
“Well maintained vehicles operating on our road network are essential to the safety of all road users,” he says. “The NHVR has a long-standing commitment to evidence-based enforcement, which is why we take a national, risk-based approach to checking whether heavy vehicles in the fleet are maintained.
“If we see a history of non-compliance, we intervene early and investigate further to prevent a potential accident from occurring.”
By adopting agreed standards to ensure quality and consistency, operators not only remain fully compliant with safety and regulatory standards but ensure their partners can reduce costs and turnaround times.
This means check lists and critical maintenance must be adhered to, tested and re-certified. The ability to start a job straight away reduces time off road by days and sometimes weeks.
Before a heavy vehicle driver embarks on a journey, Inspect365 will take the driver through a sequence of checks and the faults are then logged and registered so they are prioritised.
While compliance seems to be steadily increasing during national operations conducted by the NHVR, breaches of mechanical safety are going to be present given the average age of the national fleet is now closing in on 15 years. Having a documented outcome for work performed by a qualified repairer therefor remains crucial so that sign-off can be validated.
This way drivers who are asked to take equipment out that might not be safe can be immediately identified. As a result everyone understands their part in the process in accordance to where and how accurately it has been reported.
In short, by formalising such a process, reports become a trail of proof as to whether a driver knows if a vehicle is not safe to take out and alerts a workshop manager that a service is required.
As a fleet management tool, Inspect365 automates the manual process of daily checking and fault reporting. This way, everyone in the decision-making chain from management, the workshop and inside the cabin of the truck, is kept in the loop.
Under COR the freedom to prosecute all the way up the top of the decision-making tree might mean exposure for those who aren’t yet aware of where their organisation is vulnerable.
Having line management correctly understand their roles and responsibilities is part of the challenge. Implementing the policies to ensure they are looking after mobile assets and the safety and welfare of their team is the other.
The right fleet management technology can provide total visibility when it comes to the suitability of commercial vehicles based on each individual requirement. Standardising inspections across maintenance and repair, especially as it pertains to faults and scheduled servicing, also empowers the personnel in place to meet the obligations of the business.
“In a post-COVID-19 world, fleet managers can add sanitisation to the checklist for commercial vehicles using our Inspect365 system,” says Andy Mulcaster, Managing Director of SG Fleet. “Everyone from the truck driver to the fleet manager will have confidence knowing that everything has been done to ensure the safety of the workforce and that the vehicle has been properly disinfected for each new driver.”