What are the ‘big ticket’ issues or prospective ‘shopping list’ for the National Transport Commission (NTC) as part of the current review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL)?
The NTC has issued a number of ‘suggested policy option’ papers which provide good insight into areas for the potential development of the HVNL. The policy papers are intended to be used for discussion, as part of determining the recommendations that will ultimately be put to Ministers for the development of the HVNL.
Elevate safety to be the primary objective of the HVNL
The HVNL presently states that its objectives include the promotion of both safety and productivity. There is some concern that people might interpret this to mean that safety concerns can be set aside or considered secondary in the pursuit of productivity.
The recommendation is therefore to make it explicit that safety is the primary concern and productivity and any other objective secondary.
One concern about this approach is that it might mean that the regulators focus only on safety or on safety to the exclusion of other considerations – where productivity gains were one of the big unfulfilled promises of the HVNL.
We think that the desired outcome could be achieved without downgrading productivity concerns, by providing that productivity cannot come at the expense of safety.
Introduce a remote zone
Australia is a big place and the operation and safety concerns arising out of remote or long-distance driving are quite different to those of driving in more developed areas. A common-criticism of the HVNL is that it adopts a ‘one size fits all approach’. The materially different fatigue considerations that arise from remote or long-distance driving are one of the major reasons why WA didn’t sign up to the HVNL and are perhaps part of the reason that the NT hasn’t done so.
The suggestion here is that specific, and likely more flexible, fatigue management options are opened up for remote driving operations. This might be offset by additional requirements for e.g. roadworthiness fitness for duty requirements and/or driver training and competency, to balance the risk associated with more flexible fatigue regimes.
Apply key parts of the WA fatigue management approach
What? Adopt something from the West!? That’s right.
Fatigue management under the HVNL is inflexible, highly prescriptive in terms of work/rest hours and administratively burdensome in terms of the requirement to complete mandatory work diaries etc. Further, it is (slowly being) recognised that issuing infringements for people not completing their registration number in their work diary (or other similar administrative matters that are technically breaches of the law) is probably not producing amazing safety outcomes.
The suggestion is for more flexibility to the management of fatigue, including the ability to slightly exceed prescribed hours due to unforeseen circumstances, such as completely unpredicted delays. Any variation would only be allowed to be minor and reasonable and the variation mechanism would not be permitted to be abused and used as a routine occurrence. It is also suggested that the fixed form of the mandatory work diary is scrapped and replaced with a general requirement to keep driving records in whatever form works for you.
The trade-off might be additional requirements for fatigue management plans, fitness to drive assessments and fatigue management training.
Duty to ensure driver competency
Drivers aren’t just monkeys put in front of a steering wheel. The safe conduct of transport activities requires more knowledge, experience and skill than is injected through standard heavy vehicle licencing procedures.
The suggestion is to establish a duty on employers, prime contractors and operators to ensure that drivers are not just licensed, but competent to perform the services required. This would include having proper knowledge of the vehicle, its operation and likely driving conditions; the skills to do each component task of loading, operating and unloading the vehicle safely and the experience to conduct those activities in the full range of road. operating and environmental conditions likely to be encountered.
Author: Nathan Cecil
* This article was originally published in CoR Adviser. The article is © 2020 Portner Press Pty Ltd and has been reproduced with permission of Portner Press.
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Published by Nathan Cecil