chain of responsibility

The rise of online shopping is just one contributor to the significant increase in transport activities, and for companies using heavy vehicles, it’s a legal obligation to be fully conversant with the chain of responsibility (CoR). In Australia, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has developed the Master Industry Code of Practice which outlines the chain of responsibility for all persons and businesses involved in the transport activity of a heavy vehicle.

The Code applies to a broad range of industry sectors including agriculture, buses, construction, general freight, manufacturing, machinery, mining and so on. The CoR applies to everyone who uses heavy vehicles in their business dealings.

The chain of responsibility has four regulated core hazard responsibilities underpinned by a risk management framework:

  1. Speed—incidents caused by speeding heavy vehicles and breaches of speed compliance requirements
  2. Fatigue—incidents caused by drivers being impaired by fatigue and breaches of fatigue management requirements
  3. Mass, Dimension and Loading—incidents caused by incorrectly positioned or restrained loads and overloaded or over-dimensional heavy vehicles, and breaches of mass, dimension and
    loading requirements
  4. Vehicle Standards—incidents caused by poorly maintained, unsafe or defective heavy vehicles and breaches of vehicle standards requirements.

For this article, we look at the obligations of the chain of responsibility for heavy vehicle drivers, schedulers, consignors, consignees, packers, loaders, unloaders, employers and those that manage these activities.

What is the Chain of Responsibility For?

The Code imposes a positive duty on all chain of responsibility parties to ensure the safety of their transport activities. They must do this in at least two ways: by eliminating or minimising public risks; and by ensuring their conduct doesn’t cause or encourage a driver or another person, directly or indirectly, to breach the Heavy Vehicle National Law. A CoR party’s duty is to ensure the safety of their transport activities ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

What is the Risk of Speeding and What Can You Do About It?

Speeding is linked to road accidents and fatalities and is high-risk behaviour. Speeding is not just driving faster than the sign-posted speed limit. It is also driving too fast for the weather, light, traffic and road conditions based on vehicle condition, driver skills and experience.

The chain of responsibility requires companies undertaking transport activities to ensure at all times that there is enough time for the driver to do so safely and without feeling pressured to speed.

Schedulers play a critical role and must initiate alerts and take remedial action if they identify consignment arrangements that have the potential to cause a driver to speed. For example, urgent, express or overnight deliveries, time-sensitive freight such as perishable items or fast-moving consumer goods, short lead times, increased volumes or seasonal demands, “stock outs” or backlog orders.

They must always schedule journeys with enough time for them to be completed safely and according to speed limits along the route. Schedulers need to allow for contingencies and conditions such as steep ascents and descents, traffic congestion, major roadworks, adverse weather, curfews and loading and unloading delays.

One way to avoid placing a driver under pressure to speed is to keep to, and allow flexibility to, packing times and scheduled pick-up times to minimise delays. If delays occur, schedulers need to advise operators and drivers, loaders and managers in advance and take steps so that drivers are not pressured to speed.

The Risk of Fatigue and What To Do

When fatigue becomes a problem, and where you must consider the consequences in the chain of responsibility, is when it affects heavy vehicle drivers. Driving while fatigued can lead to falling asleep at the wheel.

Signs of fatigue include a lack of alertness, an inability to concentrate, poor judgment or memory, making more mistakes than usual, mood changes, increased irritability, drowsiness, or falling asleep at work including microsleeps.

There are some things you can do to eliminate the risk of fatigue. First, drivers must take their scheduled breaks and rest periods to reduce the risk of becoming fatigued. Also, you should keep accurate records and monitor driver work and rest times. it’s also a good idea to encourage drivers to self-report if they are feeling sleepy, physically or mentally tired, weary or drowsy, exhausted or lacking in energy.

Second, schedulers should always plan trip schedules and rosters with appropriate timeframes so drivers are not pressured to drive when fatigued or breach their work and rest hours. They need to schedule journeys so that drivers can stop and rest at places where there are rest facilities and amenities, or where there is no excessive noise.

Third, if as an employer, prime contractor, operator, loading manager, loader and unloader, you become aware the driver is impaired by fatigue, you must stop the driver immediately and arrange for them to have a rest break. You should make available lunchrooms with fresh water, tea and coffee making facilities, toilets, change rooms with showers, or provide access to the nearest offsite rest facilities if limited onsite facilities are available.

Mass and Dimension Hazards

Over-size or over-mass loads can cause damage to road infrastructure and result in serious incidents and traffic congestion. Examples include over-height loads colliding with bridges, tunnels and overhead powerlines. If the heavy vehicle is not fit for the purpose, it can cause damage to road infrastructure, for example, break up the surface and the load can adversely affect the performance of the heavy vehicle. This may also cause damage to the equipment and the vehicle, including suspension damage and degrade its structural integrity.

A person who drives, or permits another person to drive, a heavy vehicle on a road must ensure the vehicle, and the vehicle’s components and load, comply with the mass, dimension and loading requirements applying to the vehicle.

You must identify the mass, dimension and loading requirements, such as tare, gross and axle weights, widths and lengths, that apply to each vehicle or combination and communicate these with relevant Chain of Responsibility parties. This includes providing drivers with accurate load weights and dimensions before, or at the point of, loading.

Consignors and consignees need to make sure:

  • requests and contractual arrangements do not cause or encourage any chain of responsibility parties to breach mass, dimension and loading requirements,
  • accurate load weights are known, and
  • loaded vehicles comply with gross and axle or axle group weights.

Schedulers need to make sure:

  • schedules and routes will not cause the driver to breach mass, dimensions and loading requirements, and
  • road infrastructure is suitable for the vehicle and its load.

Loading Risks and Controls

Loading a truck creates a risk to the stability of the vehicle. When loading a vehicle or truck you must ensure that you accurately position, distribute and secure the load in a manner that maintains the vehicle and load stability. You should always refer to the loading instructions, and distribution plans and adjust as required.

Make sure that you use suitable equipment to move, load, restrain and unload freight safely. Many companies use forklifts to load and unload materials to avoid manual handling. It’s a good idea to provide a spotter or second person to assist drivers when loading and unloading materials. And, while loading and unloading activities are undertaken, you must be aware of where the driver is at all times.

Applying Safe Vehicle Standards

Each party in the chain of responsibility for a heavy vehicle must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of the party’s transport activities relating to the vehicle. A person must not use a heavy vehicle on a road that contravenes a heavy vehicle standard applying to the vehicle.

Employers, prime contractors, operators, loading managers, loaders and unloaders need to make sure that the vehicle or combination is fit for the task.

Drivers must perform a simple visual safety check at the start of each day. You should have a documented system for recording and reporting vehicle faults that identify and assess the nature and severity of faults and place priorities on their repair. Also, you should set-up periodic maintenance schedules, with identified service periods, that describe the tasks to be completed. You must keep accurate records and documentation of maintenance activities.

Schedules and rosters mustn’t make drivers feel pressured to keep their vehicles on the road and not carry out periodic maintenance.

When loaders, consigners or managers see a vehicle defect, they need to alert the driver and report and record their observations. The vehicle should be repaired before resuming use.

Training is a Critical Area in the CoR

Training should develop an awareness of the potential consequences of harm or loss and the human factors that may lead to risk-taking behaviours. This includes information about the issues affecting how people do their jobs, such as social and personal factors, especially in relation to speeding and driving while impaired by fatigue.

The Code suggests that all CoR parties should implement a training management system to:

  • identify the training needs—for example, a training needs analysis
  • identify any gaps in training—for example, a training register
  • maintain records of training provided and content covered
  • review the effectiveness of training—for example, competency assessments
  • conduct ongoing and regular refresher training.

However, the issue with training about the chain of responsibility is problematic because of the dry content and many parties are difficult to engage.

This is where Tap into Safety can help with our engaging MicroLearning delivery for each section of the CoR. We break up the course into bite-size, easily understood concepts using interesting animated videos and an assessment around control and critical control measures. This course responds to points 4 and 5 in the above list to deliver effective refresher training and point 3 to provide records of the training and the content that is covered.

Our Transport Chain of Responsibility course goes beyond the 4 critical areas of the Code to train on hazards associated with transport activities and loads. We also include information on manual handling, falls from height, damaged loads, hazardous materials, and restraining loads. You can complete the course online or on a mobile device in a total of 30 minutes; however, it can also be completed in incremental stages.

Also, we have a dedicated course for leaders and managers to help them understand their responsibilities and those of their organisation.

To Conclude

In Australia, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has developed the Master Industry Code of Practice which outlines the chain of responsibility for all persons and businesses involved in the transport activity of a heavy vehicle. The chain of responsibility applies to everyone who operates a heavy vehicle or uses heavy vehicle transport in their business activities. The obligations of the chain of responsibility for heavy vehicle drivers, schedulers, consignors, consignees, packers, loaders, unloaders, employers and those that manage these activities.

The chain of responsibility has four regulated core hazard responsibilities underpinned by a risk management framework including Speed, Fatigue, Mass, Dimension and Loading and Vehicle Standards. To ensure everyone in the CoR understands their responsibilities training plays a critical role. Training should develop an awareness of the potential consequences of harm or loss and the human factors that may lead to risk-taking behaviours. This includes information about the issues affecting how people do their jobs, such as social and personal factors, especially in relation to speeding and driving while impaired by fatigue.

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