Patrick O’Brien reports on GBR Transport’s adoption of TruckSafe

With Chain of Responsibility legislation keeping safety high on everyone’s agenda, more and more operators are taking a close look at the TruckSafe accreditation program. As Melbourne’s GBR Transport discovered, the program also acts as a springboard for improvements right across the board. PATRICK O’BRIEN reports.

To put it plainly, TruckSafe is a business and risk management system aimed at improving the safety and professionalism of trucking operators.

It’s also a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and consequently, TruckSafe accredited businesses have to prove their commitment to responsible work practices, well-maintained vehicles, healthy and well-trained drivers, and a documented business management system.

The accreditation scheme grew as a response to the Grafton truck and bus crash in 1989. It was so successful that the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme borrowed many of the concepts, although TruckSafe has a much broader scope in its aim to build safer and better managed businesses.

“The TruckSafe accreditation system is based on four standards covering management, maintenance, workplace safety and driver health, and training,” explains Bill McKinley, the ATA’s national manager for government relations and communications. “We audit TruckSafe businesses against the standards on entry and then every two years.

“Accreditation is recognised by federal and state governments,” he continues. “Being TruckSafe accredited meets one of the four criteria to receive fuel tax credits from the tax office. Plus, for operators in Victoria, TruckSafe has been recognised by VicRoads as a registered industry code of practice. What that means is if a TruckSafe operator in Victoria is taken to court on a relevant Chain of Responsibility breach, complying with the letter and spirit of the scheme qualifies as a ‘reasonable step’ defence.

“Actually, the national heavy vehicle laws will have a similar provision and we will seek to have TruckSafe registered as a code of practice in all the states in the national scheme once the national regulator takes on its full role.”

One of the latest members of the Australian transport industry to sign up to TruckSafe is GBR Transport. Based in Carrum Downs in Melbourne’s east, GBR Transport became fully accredited in November 2012. The company is also a strong member of the local community, donating food and drinks to volunteer fire crews fighting the recent bushfires in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

“Achieving TruckSafe accreditation is something we’re proud of because we think it is very important,” says GBR Transport founder Brad Millett.

“The big one for us is safety. It’s all about educating our drivers – and ourselves – about the importance of a safety culture by identifying risks and how to prevent them. We improve our safety by making it a part of our work process.”

Although GBR Transport made its first delivery in the late 1990s, its roots lie deep in the highways of eastern Australia. Brad’s first job was that classic mainstay of Australian transport, an independent owner-operator truckie. Fresh out of school and looking for work, he bought an old cab-over Kenworth and began making a name for himself as a reliable interstate operator.

As many have learnt, that sort of life can take a toll, especially back in the day when shifts of 16 hours or more were par for the course. Brad decided to take a career break but, again as many have learnt, sometimes transport is just in your blood.

“I sat down with my wife Caroline and we realised we’d like to give it another shot, so GBR Transport was born,” he says.

“I had the experience on the road, but to run a business properly you need business management skills, which is where Caroline fits in. While I went out cold calling for business, which I reckon to this day remains the best way of getting work, Caroline set up all the administration requirements and did all the bookwork.

“Just knowing how to drive a truck is not enough. You really need someone with the right skills running the show behind the scenes.”

In fact, it was a cold call to Woolworths about five years ago that led to GBR Transport really starting to kick some goals. Brad was put through to Paul English, who at the time was running a logistics division at Woolworths. Not only did GBR end up with a new and rewarding customer, Brad ended up hiring Paul 12 months ago as his new general manager.

Paul explains that GBR Transport is mostly known for doing metro work around Melbourne and its surrounds, while along with supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles, some of the company’s other customers include big names such as Americold, Amcor and Swire.

But with a fleet that’s grown from just one Kenworth to now boasting13 prime movers with a mix of badges, 15 refrigerated trailers, nine refrigerated rigids, and a ‘lucky dip’ of drop decks, skels and curtainsiders (again a mix of local manufacturers), GBR Transport is actually well set up to service a range of industries. Or, as Paul says, to deliver anything from an envelope to a semi load of pallets.

“GBR Transport actually has the capacity to bid for work anywhere in the country,” Paul says.

“Late last year we delivered building materials for new Aboriginal communities up in the Northern Territory. The job involved going from Darwin to Katherine, then doing change-overs from Katherine across to Arnhem Land. We completed the job using two roadtrains and one semi-trailer. All up, about 40 trailer loads across 10 trips.

“We were up against the clock, too. The job had to be completed before the wet season hit and the rivers start rising. The first truck hit the road on 19 November and everyone was back in Melbourne on 13 December. The work was funded by the Northern Territory Government and they’ve actually asked us back this year to assist with future projects.”

“Everyone keeps telling me to give up on the interstate stuff!” Brad adds with a laugh. “But I can’t help myself. It takes me back to the early days and why I got into transport in the first place. It drives Caroline crazy!”

Best of both worlds

Another interesting component of GBR Transport’s make-up that keeps Caroline on her toes is the way its team of about 29 drivers, from casual to full-time, is supplemented by a roster of sub-contracted drivers. Paul and Brad view it as the best of both worlds: they get to surround themselves with the sorts of big machinery they love, while also being in a position to give work to local owner-operators.

The other drivers are needed because although GBR’s full-time roster is the right size for its regular contracted work, the very nature of the way in which supermarkets run their operations means it’s important to maintain an open line of communication. It’s not unusual for him to get a call late in the afternoon from Woolies asking if he can provide a few extra trucks the next day. For that matter, it’s also not unknown for a call to come through at five in the morning.

“We have a good system where we can send out a group text message to our drivers and then wait for the calls to come in. It seems to work pretty well for us and the drivers. This is where Fatigue Management becomes very important in knowing what drivers we can and can’t use, so the systems we have in place identify this,” Paul says.

“But it will always be important to keep our own physical presence out on the road. I mean, it may be a full GBR combination or just our own GBR truck pulling a Woolies trailer but either way it’s our name out on the road, representing us.

“The introduction of TruckSafe and GPS into our fleet has given us the reassurance of knowing we will be automatically notified when a truck is due for a service. We’ve always been very committed to a strict maintenance program, even before we became TruckSafe accredited, but it’s still good knowing that this reminder is there.”

Brad and Paul are also quick to acknowledge the many benefits that flow from being a TruckSafe accredited business. Overall, the accreditation process took around nine months and involved working closely with locally based auditor Vanessa Carlin to improve business practices linked to the four key standards.

Just how long it takes to become fully accredited depends on the size and complexity of the business as well as its understanding of the requirements. For example, a business already accredited with something like the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) will find the process much easier.

“As part of TruckSafe, we’ve changed the way we do a lot of things,” Paul comments. “The TruckSafe standards give us confidence that our drivers are fit for work, our vehicles are roadworthy, our maintenance is up to scratch and our workshop has clear procedures to follow.

“And what was really interesting was the flow on to other areas we didn’t even think of. Just talking with our drivers about their health on the job and out on the road led to a lot of them asking their doctors about things like their general health and giving up smoking. It’s fascinating the way in which focusing on one part of your business acts as a catalyst to make improvements in other areas you hadn’t thought of.”

The changes continue to flow on, even reaching the sub-contractors working for GBR Transport, with Paul and team going over their daily run sheets and checking maintenance records every 25,000 kilometres. Quarterly meetings are also held to provide updates and reminders of everyone’s Chain of Responsibility and Fatigue Management commitments.

Bigger benefits

“Like GBR Transport, many of our members have found that once they implement the scheme it has many other business and safety benefits,” says the ATA’s Bill McKinley.

“The management module is the keystone of the scheme because our view is that to be a safe business you have to have systems and procedures to ensure safety. You can’t simply be a safe business by telling people to be safe, you have to have systems in place.

“What we would call ‘random compliance’, deciding you have a problem and then working furiously at it for two weeks and then forgetting about it, just doesn’t get results. You have to have systems embedded in the business to ensure that you’re safe.”

Having those systems embedded shows that a business is safe not just at the moment of inspection but at all times, he further asserts. Hence, TruckSafe’s inclusion of a management manual, duty statements for key positions, and control systems so staff are always operating off the right forms and procedures. Regular audits then determine that the business has systems in place to maintain its level of safety with procedures ensuring that staff knows exactly what they have to do.

Those duty statements need to match up so there are no gaps and management needs to review the systems regularly, so if something goes wrong – as things always go wrong – they have a way of routinely correcting them.

“The benefit for businesses being in TruckSafe is first and foremost to have a safe business and, just as importantly, being able to show to your customers that you have a safe business,” Bill McKinley adds.

“From a customer’s point of view that’s becoming increasingly important because of the Chain of Responsibility laws. For example, to be legally safe a consignor has to be confident that it is dealing with a transport company that is safe and is not going to cause any extended liability problems. There are two ways they can go about that. They can ask the transport company’s compliance people to go through a big, long checklist or they can simply see that the company is accredited by TruckSafe, problem solved.”

This is certainly the case at GBR Transport, according to Brad Millett.

“Yes, our customers do like the peace of mind they get when they look at our accredited maintenance schedule. It just makes them that little bit more comfortable doing business with us. The drivers really like it as well and we think it makes it easier to attract workers to GBR Transport, because they know that we have these accredited safety and training practices in place,” he says.

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that joining TruckSafe is a major decision for a business. It requires a lot of work at all levels of the company to be compliant, even to the extent of restructuring parts of the business. Yet the benefits are there and, as Bill McKinley argues, they are sustained benefits.

“Once you are in the scheme, evidence shows that you will be a safer business, the insurance statistics show that you will be a safer business, you are likely to have lower staff turnover and you are more likely to have success in securing the sort of premium customers that a trucking business now wants to get,” he says.

In fact, it’s an emphatic Bill McKinley who concludes, “Last year was a particularly strong year for TruckSafe and we now have over 250 members. Membership is increasing as companies recognise that there is a commercial and legal imperative to operating a safe and well run business.”

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