Christopher Melham, CEO of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) says Chain of Responsibility (CoR) legislation should introduce a general or primary duty that applies to trucking operators and all other parties in the chain.
The recommendation was made by the ATA in a submission to the National Transport Commission’s (NTC) ‘Primary duties for CoR parties and executive officer liability’ discussion paper.
The ATA criticised the way current legislation “discourages innovation” and creates more red tape by attempting to prescribe how businesses operate.
Melham’s organisation is calling for a general/primary safety duty to apply to all parties in the chain.
Mr Melham explained:
“The NTC has argued that the current CoR duties should be replaced by a general duty for trucking operators, employers and prime contractors only, with narrower, role-specific duties for other chain parties. However, this approach is not appropriate for road freight transport.
“Best practice safety legislation uses primary (or general) duties to outline the scope of a business’s responsibilities, and allows businesses to develop their own procedures to meet these standards,” he said. “As such, we recommend that a general safety duty is developed to apply to all chain of responsibility parties.
Melham went on to state that this approach would improve safety and make clear to businesses and staff their obligations.
It would also remove the more “complex, duplicated and overlapping provisions” from the Heavy Vehicle National Law. Reduction in red tape would benefit the industry, regulators and the courts.
Mr Melham went on to state:
“Given the broad influence of chain parties like consignors and consignees, it would be counterproductive to exclude them from the general duty, and likely have a considerable impact on their perceived legal responsibility.”
Mr Melham reiterated the importance of parties in the chain being aware of their duties, but currently “the reasonable steps” parties need to take is not clearly defined anywhere in the law.
The ATA called for the replacement of ‘all reasonable steps’ with ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, which is used in the model WHS Act. The ATA explained:
“In a recent study, the ATA found that almost a quarter of road freight management positions require both CoR and WHS experience. Aligning the standards would significantly reduce the paperwork burden on these professionals.”
In addition to supporting the proposed changes, the ATA also wants fatigue management protections for truck drivers along with a measure holding consignors and consignees accountable for vehicle maintenance standards.
The National Transport Commission boss believes that it may take time to reform chain of responsibility. Paul Retter, NTC CEO explained that there was no quick fix for chain of responsibility reform. But instead it should be done in stages because of the level of work required, Retter warned.
He was speaking at NatRoad, this year’s annual gathering of members.
Last month the NTC issued a discussion paper in which they proposed the alignment of CoR with the Work Health Safety (WHS) Act. It also proposed imposing role-specific responsibilities on parties in the supply chain.
In November this year a final proposal will go before transport ministers to vote on.
Mr Retter believes that the addition of primary duties will give trucking operators greater flexibility in their CoR compliance, whereas at the moment the CoR law prescribes exactly what parties in the chain do.
The proposed “primary duties” would provide an overarching responsibility a party must meet but then leave it to the party to decide what actions to take to comply.
Mr Retter said this approach would be good for safety and for responsible operators,
“So I think it will be good for safety, it should be good for those operators who know what they are doing and have a good understanding of the risks involved in their business,” Retter says.
Under the proposed changes CoR offenders may be liable for severe financial penalties and jail time. Currently breaching the WHS Act carries a maximum fine of $300,000 or 5 years in prison for employees and a $600,000 fine for contractors. Body corporates can be fined as much as $3million.
To find out more about current Chain of Responsibility legislation, click here.