– By Caroline Falls –
About a year ago, on October 1, significant changes were made to so-called Chain of Responsibility laws, that really should have scared all fleet operators and anyone involved in the operation of a commercial vehicle.
The new rules set by national legislation mean that every party involved in the operation of any vehicle over 4.5 tonnes may be held liable for safety breaches. Anyone: the managing director of a company sub-contracted to deliver something, the driver, the scheduler of the supplier, the person unloading a vehicle — anyone.
“There’s still certain people who use vehicles who have no idea,” said Mike Wood, managing director of risk consultancy Latus. “They think: ‘I’m not a transport company, it doesn’t apply to me.’ Well, I’m afraid it does.”
The CoR legislation is over 1,000 pages, and it’s complicated, with various states enacting the national legislation differently. Generally, though it applies to any vehicle operated commercially that is 4.5 tonnes GVM/GCM or heavier. The main exception is in Western Australia, where the rules are applied to all vehicles operating commercially.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which was established in 2013, amped up its work on Chain of Responsibility rules following a deadly truck accident in Sydney’s Mona Vale later the same year. Two people died when a Cootes fleet truck flipped and exploded. The accident set off a national audit and uncovered maintenance and safety breaches galore. Cootes and its owner McAleese were hit with hundreds or charges and the businesses eventually went belly up.
Meanwhile, industry bodies, including the Australian Trucking Association championed an overhaul of CoR rules and said responsibility for things like maintenance had to go right to the top.
Well they have. But still many organisations and people who could lose everything they own if found liable for breaches under the heavy CoR rules don’t appreciate the significance.
“They don’t get that they have to take certain steps to mitigate or avoid penalties,” said Wood. Companies, organisations, and owner-operators like tradespeople with 4.5 tonne utes need to audit and update all their vehicle-safety-related policies, procedures and practices.
Wood addressed a national conference of local councils in Bendigo in late September, and said it’s an ongoing endeavour to get the word out.
Latus has joined up with the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) and developed a program to help any business develop the polices and guidelines required to be compliant. The program is designed for organisations to implement it themselves, but most struggle to do it alone.
As an indication of the complexity of this issue, Wood said that out of about 50 councils that had subscribed to the program and 49 had asked for extra consultation to help them implement it.