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Are You Ready For Changes To The Chain Of Responsibility?


The Queensland Government passed an amendment late last year introducing important changes to the Chain of Responsibility (CoR). These will impact how this legislation is practiced and enforced by all states and territories operating under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). Decision-makers in the transport industry need to be aware of this amendment and how it impacts existing safety procedures.

All stakeholders continue to share responsibility for any HVNL breaches. No change there. But, crucially, the amendment alters the wording to bring it in line with other work health and safety (WHS) legislation. Now, everyone in the CoR with primary duties has a non-transferrable obligation to ensure compliance as far as is reasonably practical.

Becoming More Proactive

This changes the focus from reactive to proactive. Prosecution is no longer dependant on a road offence being committed. Previously, each stage in the chain needed to demonstrate that they had not contributed to an incident. Now, the prosecutors just need to establish that a party hasn’t taken adequate precautions to avoid a foreseeable risk.

With a recent survey from Macquarie University revealing that many truck drivers feel unable to refuse or report unsafe work practices such as carrying an unsafe load or falsifying work diaries, this is an important step in improving safety on our roads.

Casting A Wider Net

While the wording of existing legislation holds everyone accountable, transport operators mainly bore the brunt of prosecution in practice. The people and organisations that fall within the scope of the new-look CoR, such as consignor and consignee still haven’t changed. However, the changes to the wording, particularly that non-transferable part, combined with the ability to prosecute even if an incident hasn’t taken place, is a signal that the government is getting serious about enforcing shared responsibility on everyone.

In response to criticism that current legislation focused on a complicated list of specific activities, such as speeding or fatigued drivers, the new legislation also simplifies what’s covered. All activities, up to and including business practices and decision making associated with the use of heavy vehicles, is now covered. This also means that maintenance and repair will now form part of your CoR duties.

Time To Start Preparing

The new legislation comes into effect in the states covered by the HVNL (everywhere except Western Australia and the Northern Territory) in mid- 2018. With the date 18 months away it might be tempting to delay action. But the long lead time is designed to give companies time to get their house in order. With increased severity of penalties, which will be up to $300,000 for individuals and $3 million for corporation, it’s a deadline you can’t afford to miss.

The non-transferrable nature of primary duty means it’s no longer a matter of hiring compliance managers or OH&S supervisors and leaving it to them. Every decision maker within a business that in any capacity uses heavy vehicles needs to demonstrate a reasonable effort to create a safe work environment.

Five Steps To Compliance

  1. Familiarise: The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will shortly release updated guidelines for industry Codes of Practice. This will help you adhere to the CoR so look out for it. On top of that, make sure you’re familiar with your current business practices. This sounds obvious but know what procedures you have in place and how well they’re followed.
  2. Identify: Look for shortcomings in your systems that put safety at risk and leave you vulnerable to prosecution. For instance, fleet management systems give you better visibility into driver behaviour, while Electronic Work Diaries (EWDs) cannot be falsified as easily as paper logbooks. This allows you to address fatigue management issues as they arise.
  3. Implement: Document safety requirements and make sure they’re easily accessible to those who need them. It’s not enough to have them buried in the depths of your corporate intranet. They should be pushed out proactively to drivers who may rarely visit the depot. Having multiple avenues to spread this information, such as signs in the workplace and verbal briefings, also helps get the word out.
  4. Educate: Make sure all relevant parties understand their CoR obligations. In an industry that’s full of owner-operator contractors working for bigger organisations, these obligations are often extended. When a contractor was killed in an accident while working for an equipment hire company, it was fined $500,000 despite having procedures in place. This was because they hadn’t been shared with the contractor.
  5. Maintain: Regularly review and update procedures once you have a better understanding of how they perform in action. Education is not a one-off deal either. It’s no good training people during their first day on the job and leaving it at that. Hold regular briefings to keep good safety practices at the front of everyone’s mind.

Ensuring a safe work environment is everyone’s responsibility. Acting now will ensure you remain compliant when the legislation comes into force and create a safer environment for everyone.

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