Tackling Australia’s Compliance Challenges

Four years on from the amendments to COR law and the desired compliance outcomes have so far proven elusive across an industry whose operators and management must ensure their staff are well versed on their specific responsibilities.

On October 1, 2018, the Australian Heavy Vehicle National Law introduced amendments to Chain of Responsibility (CoR) legislation, requiring all organisations using heavy vehicles (regardless of industry) to take a more proactive approach to work safety.

On paper, it seems a fairly straightforward proposition, making everyone with a role in their transport supply chain collectively and individually responsible for the safety of their operations.

The implementation of the law in the workplace is, perhaps, less straightforward.

Everyone, from company directors and management teams to your consigners, dispatchers, loaders, contractors, partners and drivers, share the responsibility for the business running safely, both on and off the road.

For any operation, this is a task with more than a handful of organic moving parts. Sitting amongst other industry regulatory changes in flux—especially as we pivot with COVID-19—it’s easy to see why businesses can find it difficult to stay on top of compliance.

Under HVNL and the CoR amendments, operators are required to maintain robust safety systems and controls to identify, assess and manage risks associated with activities within the supply chain.

The aim of this was to switch the focus from being reactive after an incident, to having businesses take a very proactive approach to the safety of staff, operations and the public.

In essence, these systems and controls are put in place to reduce the risk and consequences of incidents on the roads.

They’re founded on what the NHVR has identified as the following core risks of road transport safety: speed, fatigue, mass, dimension, loading and vehicle standards.

These core risks also form the pillars that lead the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to the prosecution of offenders, so without those appropriate processes in place, it’s fair to expect you’ll be quickly up the creek … without a paddle.

Individuals determined to be responsible for a breach could be liable for a fine of up to $300,000, or five-year’s imprisonment.

Companies also toe the line of up to $3 million for non-compliance, depending on the severity of the offence. In the case of CoR, it seems the stick (or the honey) have yet to yield the desired compliance outcomes.

We are now approaching four years on from the amendments to CoR law, and still see astonishingly varying levels of awareness, understanding and compliance with the requirements.

It’s apparent there is still significant work to be done in offering education to these fleets in particular, and support in their risk identification and management.

According to our Future of Trucking Report, the knowledge, understanding and implementation of CoR, varies significantly from state to state. Road transport operators in New South Wales and the ACT (on aggregate) appear to be leading the pack in developing and employing policies that ensure compliance.

In Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory, operators showed a slightly higher percentage of already developed policies to ensure compliance, albeit with a lower percentage in current learning and further development of policies for CoR.

Encouragingly, Isuzu’s recent independently conducted research (The Future of Trucking Report) noted 69 per cent of larger fleets (>20 trucks) had or were in the process of developing CoR policies. But in sharp contrast, one in three smaller fleets (1-5 trucks) were completely unprepared or unaware of their CoR obligations.

This was particularly prevalent across operations where transport did not constitute the ‘core’ business.

By comparison, the report noted that Western Australia had the lowest percentage of existing policies that ensure compliance with CoR and a concerning rate of 22 per cent of businesses unaware of CoR law or obligations.

Overall, we can take away that CoR management practices are improving steadily, although slowly across the country, certainly with room for improvement, but with the long-term view of achieving coverage across the full spectrum of industries involved in road transport.

Critical learning While conceding that new laws and notions such as CoR take time to permeate, continuing to raise awareness is a task for us all.

I believe that one area to be developed is helping individuals understand CoR, by narrowing down the larger concepts to have greater meaning and impact on their day-to-day work.

Coming from a background in service, I am more than familiar with one matter in particular: hammering home the importance of proper vehicle maintenance and servicing, and keeping up with adequate maintenance regimes and planning will help to ensure safety of drivers and other road users, and meet associated compliance obligations.

But take freight delivery and logistics as another example.

Several high-profile prosecutions have brought necessary attention to compliance in loading and fatigue management.

These cases have highlighted that the risk of prosecution is no longer dependent on a road offence taking place; the NHVR only needs to establish that the business, or someone within it, hasn’t taken adequate precautions to avoid a foreseeable risk.

Specific examples such as this, with the threat of charges to be laid against all those responsible in the chain –your workmates, managers, even the bloke who trolleys your goods into the store – should be incentive enough to make sure your business has a good understanding of your responsibilities regarding CoR.

In order to ensure the business is compliant and developing good safety management systems, all those within the transport chain must have a very clear understanding of the policies and procedures.

This means each person knowing what they need to do to stay compliant but also being aware of the responsibilities of others and not just with CoR, but all relevant legislation. It’s a learning curve to say the least.

For business owners and managers, evolving a culture that embraces safety is key.

CoR practices should become as natural to your staff as any other OH&S process that takes place in the business.

There are fantastic resources available through the NHVR, State Government websites and through professional independent agencies and Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), which have emerged to offer courses in all aspects of CoR training.

And although the onus must be on each operator out there to ensure all staff, from schedulers through to drivers, operators and management, are well versed on their specific responsibilities, it should also fall back on everyone – including industry leaders – to keep the topic fresh in mind.

Brett Stewart

With his background as a diesel mechanic and a career spanning over 25 years in the transport industry including roles such as truck fleet maintenance manager, Brett Stewart moved across to an OEM firstly as National Service Technical Manager and currently holds the position of National Service Manager with Isuzu Trucks.

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