A review of the chain of responsibility rules and their enforcement is long overdue and the National Transport Commission (NTC) has released its draft proposals to improve the effectiveness of the Compliance and Enforcement laws, as they stand. As to whether the changes proposed will make any difference to life for the truckie, there’s another question. Perhaps we need to think a bit more out of the box to make it work?
Very few deny an effective COR rule would make the highways safer and the truckie’s lot a little less stressful. There are many interactions between the truck and the consignors, consignees and operator which conspire to put pressure on, and which can eventuate in non-compliance by, those within a trucking operation.
The changes proposed by the NTC are a step in the right direction and will make practical improvements. Including heavy vehicle standards and roadworthiness in the rules will concentrate the mind a little more and addresses issues like those which arose around the Cootes incident in 2013. Technical changes about task definitions and who is responsible for what, are recommended. Getting better information out about who is responsible for what and who is breaching the rules will help.
The NTC report recommends extending the scope of those regarded as duty holders under the law, as well as calling for better definition of what those duties are. The establishment of an effective COR investigation unit, under the auspices of the NHVR, is vital for the ongoing credibility for COR. Better integration with Workplace Health and Safety regulation and an acceptance by WHS officers of the COR guidelines will also make this area of enforcement a little less of a minefield.
All of these changes, as proposed, seem just a little like tinkering at the edges of a big problem. The report does make a useful point about industry codes of conduct, allowing them to demonstrate proof of reasonable steps to comply, but no more.
The problem is still going to be there after this review is finalised. There is still going to be undue pressure on those working at the coal face to push past the limits to get the job done. The paperwork will all be compliant and every one of the parties involved will have been duly trained in whatever they need to know. Is this enough?
It’s all about the psychology. The rule developers are there, in their glass tower on Bourke Street, and they do make an effort to get out and talk to industry. Industry comes to them in the form of industry associations and makes submissions to drive their particular part of the agenda. They don’t have any idea about what is going on in a driver’s head as they shave a bit off their rest period, push on just a little bit harder or fail to call in that fault.
There are so many things drivers have to think about and so many messages they are given, pushing them. The psychology at the loading dock, or the window where they wait for PODs, over the phone from operations, fear of productivity cutbacks, the message from roadside enforcement officers as well as pressure to get the job done and get home to the family, girlfriend etc. all contribute to the problem.
Is there a solution? Probably not. Is anyone trying to think about all of this? Probably not. Are the 13 recommendations put down by the NTC going to improve COR substantially? Probably not.