In an industry with hundreds of fatal or serious accidents every year, will this new legislation be a game-changer for personal safety?
A few weeks ago, I had to go to Sydney to represent a client in an immigration matter.
As I was driving along the Gateway motorway on my way to the airport, a dump truck rolled over right in front of me, blocking all lanes and bringing traffic to halt for a few hours. Luckily, no one was injured, but it was a close call because just seconds after the roll over the truck was engulfed in flames.
One thing which occurred to me is that this happened on a Sunday at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. There was no obvious, visible road hazard. While I can only speculate about what caused the accident, in cases like this, driver fatigue is always a potential issue.
Which takes me to my next point: recently there have been some significant changes in the law which will hopefully lead to a reduction in heavy vehicle accidents.
To illustrate the size of the problem: in the 2017 financial year alone, 212 people died in crashes involving heavy vehicles and approximately 1,600 people were hospitalised. The fatality rate in the road transport industry is over 8 times high than all other industries.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law now imposes on everyone in the transport supply chain a duty to ensure safety.
What does this mean in practice? Let’s take a step back first. Let’s say one of the supermarket giants has a tight times tables for truckies to make their deliveries. This would force them (the truck drivers) to speed or cut short rest breaks. If they don’t, they will miss deliveries. If this happens too often, they will miss out on thousands of dollars every month. From a transport safety perspective that means they won’t be able to afford to get their trucks serviced properly.
This is just one example of a practice which leads to multiple risks of injury. Speeding or fatigue will result in a road accident, and so will lack of proper servicing.
What does this all have to do with the new law? Under the new system, its not just the drivers who have to comply with road rules. Others in the supply chain are also liable to make sure the rules aren’t breached.
So, if a large company can influence the way in which independent truck drivers operate, then this company will now also be legally responsible to ensure compliance with the law.
This is really important because in practice, truck drivers are often self-employed. Previously a large company could say that they are not legally responsible for what independent truck drivers were doing, as they had no legal control over these drivers.
Now, what matters is control in a practical sense. To take the previous example, if a supermarket giant is powerful enough to set expectations and timeframes, then they have a real influence over how truck drivers conduct their own business to meet those expectations. So, if a supermarket giant sets a timeframe for deliveries, they must make sure they don’t encourage truck drivers to speed just to meet the timeframe.
I suspect many large companies will have to look at their systems very closely to make sure they comply with the law. For example, if a supermarket pays bonuses for early deliveries, doesn’t that encourage a driver to complete his deliveries asap? Isn’t that an incentive for drivers to cut corners? (no pun intended.) So these systems around bonuses, incentives and penalties must all now be reviewed.