Avoiding a COR Meltdown

By: Andrew Hobbs

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New heavy vehicle laws mean new responsibilities for farmers – but it doesn’t have to mean a massive change in how you operate.

Avoiding a COR Meltdown
Don’t keep them waiting. Unscheduled delays could lead to drivers working while fatigued – a move which could have negative consequences for them and for you.

 

After being in the pipeline for roughly two years, changes to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) bringing it in line with existing workplace health and safety laws finally came into effect on October 1.

Simply put, the changes to the Chain of Responsibility (COR) parts of the legislation mean that all parties in a supply chain – including farmers – have a duty to either eliminate or reduce risks faced by other parties in it, so far as is reasonably practical.

And the penalties faced by groups that fail the test can be severe. Under the revised HVNL an individual can be fined $300,000 and sentenced to up to five years in prison if they recklessly expose someone to the risk of death, serious injury or illness through bad safety management.

That penalty, which extends to a $3 million fine to a corporation for the same offence, is for reckless endangerment – if you break the law and expose an individual or group to the risk of injury or death, the fine is $1.5 million for a corporation and $150,000 for an individual.

Any other contravention of duty, a Category 3 offence under the HVNL, could result in fines of $500,000 for a corporation and $50,000 for an individual.

If even the lower end of that fines schedule has you nervous, then you won’t like the next bit of information – it has become easier for authorities to prosecute the HVNL, which governs vehicles over 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Authorised officers, including police and officials from state roads bodies such as NSW’s Road and Maritime Services and VicRoads, are now able to require the inspection of a heavy vehicle fleet where there is a reasonable belief that the class of vehicles does not comply with the HVNL.

Those officers will also be able to view supply chain documentation and vehicle maintenance programs if they suspect the HVNL has been breached, and will be able to issue a prohibition notice on the spot if they find one.

So what exactly will farmers and other primary producers be expected to check from here on in? What, in the eyes of the authorities, is "reasonably practical"?

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), which oversees the implementation of the HVNL, says that "although the laws have changed, they still only apply to activities that a person or business has responsibility for and could influence.

"In other words, no one will be liable for breaches they cannot control."

Third Party Cover 

There are six COR components of the HVNL for which supply chain members have responsibility. They are the mass, dimensions and loading of a vehicle, its speed, driver fatigue and the newly added component of vehicle standards – extending to maintenance of the vehicle and ensuring it meets signage requirements.

The NHVR has drawn up a series of fact sheets for farmers and primary producers outlining exactly what is required in situations where a primary producer has hired a third party to
transport for them.

While you have fewer responsibilities in this situation it does not mean you’re completely free of them – you still have a duty to make sure that your conduct does not contribute to unsafe practices by the transporter or other parties in the supply chain.

When it comes to vehicle maintenance, for example, the NHVR says you are not required to physically inspect a third party’s vehicle or its maintenance records when it comes onto your property – nor should you need to inspect driver’s licences, vehicle registration, insurance or for the presence of any necessary permits.

"However based on what you do know, if you see something about the vehicle that would make it unsafe when it leaves your property, you should refuse to load the vehicle, or use other practicable ways to avoid using the vehicle until it is repaired," the NHVR says.

"You should only be working with transporters who take responsibility for thorough maintenance of their vehicles."

If you believe a vehicle is unsafe, or too small for the load, you should be able to send it away without being loaded and insist that a more appropriate vehicle is sent.

The NHVR suggests that your agreement with the transporters, whether written or verbal, includes a clause which enables you to do this – outlining your expectations that they comply with safety regulations as well as what the consequences are for them when they do not – particularly when a delay is likely to cost you money.

No Need for Speed

That said, you should also ensure that your agreements with transport contractors and other parties in your supply chain contain nothing that might be seen as an incentive for speeding – such as bonuses or the promise of future work.

While in most cases farmers don’t control what happens when their goods leave their property, the HVNL requires that drivers, schedulers, loading managers and consignees should do nothing to encourage or otherwise cause a driver to exceed the speed limit.

Aside from pushing unreasonable schedules, that encouragement might extend to the threat of penalty, such as cancellation of a contract, if a shipment arrives late.

A lack of organisation on your part that leads to unplanned delays in picking up or loading the goods to be shipped might also be seen as putting an incentive on the driver to speed in order to make up time.

The NHVR recommends that you ask your transporter to arrive with enough time to load the vehicle and to drive to its destination legally and safely, factoring in unplanned delays.

"To assist, make sure your goods are ready to be picked up, and if for any reason you will be delayed, let your transporter know as soon as you can," it says.

The NHVR adds that there is no requirement that you be physically present when goods are picked up, so long as you can be sure they are ready, easily accessible and that the driver has all the information, equipment and assistance they might need.

Fatigue Laws

Like the speed requirements, under the HVNL there is a duty on all parties to the supply chain to make sure they do nothing to encourage a driver to work while fatigued.

The NHVR says farmers should only be working with transporters who manage their drivers’ fatigue and fitness for duty effectively – and adds that they do not need to check a driver’s work diary.

However, just like maintenance, if there is an obvious issue then the farmer has a responsibility to do something about it. 

"If a farmer does notice a driver is tired, or complains about needing rest, they should report it, take practical steps to allow the driver to rest, or use someone else," the NHVR says.

Mass, Dimension and Loading 

All parties in the supply chain, including you, are responsible for ensuring observing proper packing methods and checking the load and its transporting vehicle are within weight limits under the HVNL.

The HVNL was changed in July to increase the mass limit of a twinsteer prime mover towing a tri-axle semi-trailer from 42.5 tonnes to 46.5 tonnes, with the tandem drive axle group weight limited to 16.5t and the trailer tri-axle group limited to 20t.

The total axle mass of a tag trailer and dog and pig trailers must also not exceed that of the vehicle towing it.

The NHVR says you should be able to tell the driver the weight of the goods they will be carrying before they set off from your property – either by weighing the goods beforehand or assessing their weight in another way.

You should also take into account any factors that might affect the weight being transported, such as humidity or the type of feed that stock have been eating.

Further to this, if you have loaded and restrained the goods yourself, or you have asked your employees to do so, you should make sure the Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation is met.

The regulation was updated in October to incorporate the new load restraint performance standards as detailed by the National Transport Commission (NTC) in the Load Restraint Guide 2018.

Designed to be guidance material rather than a legal requirement under the HVNL, the guide was reviewed and updated earlier this year to give drivers, operators, manufacturers and suppliers an understanding of the basic safety principles that should be followed when a load restraint system is put together.

The standards say heavy vehicle loads must be restrained by a system that prevents them from moving in relation to the vehicle – though that load may move as long as it does not become dislodged from the vehicle or move to the point where the vehicle’s stability and weight distribution are adversely affected.

The restraint system must be able to restrain 80 per cent of the weight of the load forwards, if braking, half the weight of the load rearwards or sideways, if reversing or cornering, and 20 per cent of the load upwards if the restraint method used for the other direction relies on either friction or limited vertical displacement.

The guide provides information about how to meet those standards, including specific guidelines about the cartage of livestock, logs, and bales, bags and stacks among other loads.

It also has a comprehensive guide to side gates, tarpaulins, loading equipment and tie-down restraints, as well as some pointers on load restraint system certification.

The Load Restraint Guide 2018 for Light Vehicles is also available through the NTC.

However, if the guides do not answer your questions, the NHVR says consulting a "suitably qualified person" like a professional chartered engineer who understands load restraint requirements would be a "reasonable step" to prevent you from breaching them.

Taking Care of Business

It goes without saying that, if using your own vehicle, you are responsible for ensuring it has been properly maintained, is properly registered and is driven by a person with the appropriate licence and insurance who is not affected by drugs or alcohol while working.

If your vehicle is on the road regularly, you may wish to develop a system to keep tabs on it – such as periodic maintenance checks or recording any near-misses that occur. This will help you develop an understanding of any issues that arise, who or what was responsible, and any unusual rises in their frequency.

As the COR changes to the HVNL come into effect, it will become more important that you are able to prove your employees and sub-contractors are operating safely along with other parties in your supply chain.

This will include your near-miss register and the results of any safety audits, as well as copies of consignment notes, with details of the mass and load checks completed by drivers and other parties.

But it will also include records of your policies and procedures themselves, as well as records of any ongoing training that you have provided – and to whom you provided it.

While each company’s policies and procedures will be different, broadly all must be designed to help either eliminate or reduce the risks that come about in your day-to-day work, where they are reasonably practical.

You might find a way to substitute the hazard with something else, to isolate it from people or to develop engineering or administrative controls, such as work methods and procedures, designed to minimise exposure to the hazard.

Remember that we are not only looking at immediate hazards to health and safety, but also at the hazard of breaching maintenance, mass, dimension and loading requirements, as well as inciting drivers to work while fatigued or to speed.

Remember that your policies must clearly set out your expectations, detail the consequences of any breach, be readily accessible by anyone who is a party to it and be regularly reviewed and updated where necessary.

You may wish to consult your employees, contractors and other members of the supply chain to ask if they have any suggested improvements to those policies, as well as reassessing the policies after an incident.

Ultimately, the NHVR says that the steps any farmer should take will depend on their own level of safety risk.

If you already have defined ways to make sure you’re doing everything you can to operate safely, then you should continue to apply those same processes – but it might pay to write them down, just so you can make sure everyone is on the same page.

If you’re in need of further guidance, the NHVR has a variety of fact sheets and guides available to help you develop the perfect COR management system for your business. You can visit them at www.nhvr.gov.au

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