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Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About Chain of Responsibility Changes

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

It’s not news that employers have an obligation to keep their staff safe. But under Chain of Responsibility (CoR), this applies to every person in the supply chain – from management to consigners, despatchers and drivers. Changes to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) in mid-2018 will make it clear that every person involved has an obligation to minimise risk by taking reasonable steps to ensure safety.

What does this mean for your business? How can you make sure you’re prepared? We spoke with our Transport Solutions Specialist, Jason Davis, to find out how you can get ready and keep your business compliant.

What’s the most important thing businesses need to prepare to stay compliant with CoR laws?

The best way to prepare for these changes is to have a safety management system in place. This keeps your employees clear on policies and procedures and aware of specific obligations. And it’s not just the drivers. It’s also the consigners, consignees, packagers – everyone in the supply chain. They all need to be aware of safety policies for things like scheduling, load restraint, weight declarations, speed and fatigue. A safety management system spells out all these things but a lot of businesses just don’t have one.

So, what does an effective safety management system look like?

A good safety management system outlines all your policies and processes. It includes instructions on how to complete tasks safely, and guidelines for managing all the biggest risks in a fleet – such as loading procedures, speed and fatigue rules.  This means you have one place of reference, rather than having to pore over piles of documentation and legislation to find out what to do.

Essentially, it should be fully documented, shared with the whole team and easy to locate so everyone’s on the same page. Here are some things to consider when you’re putting it together.

  • Legal compliance and CoR requirements
  • OH&S risk assessment
  • Fatigue management policies (including scheduling, time-slot flexibility, waiting time, queuing, loading & unloading)
  • Communication processes
  • Procedures for: safe loads preparation, restraint and containment, weight declarations, dangerous goods
  • Speed management policies
  • Driver health and drug and alcohol testing processes
  • Sub-contractor assessments
  • Operational infrastructure

How will this impact training and inductions for employees?

As part of this process, you should develop a training matrix that highlights what each of your employees is capable of. What licenses do they have? What training have they already received? Your safety policies should also outline how/when training and inductions take place, and how you verify the competency of staff members.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator says businesses must demonstrate they’re “doing all that is reasonably practicable to ensure safety”. What counts as “reasonable”?

The concept of ‘taking reasonable steps’ is all about having documentation that spells out exactly what staff need to do to complete day-to-day tasks, and what you’re doing to control risks. So, the first step is to conduct a risk assessment for all your different job roles, tasks and vehicles.

Enforcement officers will want to see that you’re actively addressing safety issues, even if you’re not all the way there yet. If you’re taking action to prevent risks and not just being reactive when there’s an incident, you’re on the right track.

Here are some examples of reasonable action:

  • Conducting regular audits of work schedules and records
  • Giving drivers/employees tools to create accurate records
  • Adequately planning for driver rest breaks when you’re creating trip timetables
  • Having documented work practices to keep vehicles in good condition and loads properly restrained
  • Hosting regular training to make staff aware of business policies and their obligations
  • Creating a training matrix that includes license class expiry dates, medical test records, etc.

In particular, enforcement officers will be looking at whether you have policies to address speed and fatigue management, which are two of the biggest risks. Having tools like GPS fleet tracking and electronic work diaries in place, which provide visibility into how drivers are behaving on the road, will demonstrate a rigorous and accurate approach to monitoring these risks. 

What if a business is working with subcontractors? Are the rules different?

Like any other employee, subcontractors must be covered in your safety management system, so you can check they’re compliant. Have a checklist to run through with them and make sure you can audit this on a regular basis. Things to think about include: do they have a current driver’s license, is the insurance is up-to-date on their vehicles, and has their public liability expired?

Is this just a set-and-forget process?

A lot of the work will be done up front, but it’s important to regularly review your processes and policies. This is something to write into your safety management system, so agree on a date with your senior management team. You should also conduct a review in the case of an incident, or if your business goes through big changes, like offering new services or expanding the fleet.

Are there other benefits of being ready for CoR, outside of compliance?

Absolutely! If your company has all the proper procedures in place, it shows that you care about your staff. This means you’re much more likely to be a chosen employer, because staff can rest assured that they’ll get home safely. Compiling all your compliance information and having tools in place to make this easier, like a fleet management system, also helps you make better business decisions. You can allocate resources to the most critical areas, improve efficiency, minimise paperwork and reduce costs associated with accidents.

Ultimately, it helps you provide a safer work environment for your staff, customers and the public. You want to make sure that every single one of your employees goes home safely. It’s important to remember that there are lots of other road users, and they have families too. Getting CoR ready is about ensuring that everyone makes it home to their loved ones safely.

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