What is the Chain of Responsibility and How Does it Affect You?

Chain of Responsibility is a term for a concept contained within the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). In essence, the concept outlines who is responsible for the various decisions and factors in the operation and running of commercial transport vehicles.

In October of 2018, the Heavy Vehicle National Law was amended to make a number of changes regarding Chain of Responsibility. These changes were designed to make the health and safety requirements of the HVNL stricter, and more in alignment with the Work Health and Safety Act.

So what changes were made to the Chain of Responsibility and what do the laws cover?

Proactive Rather than Reactive (Legal Duty)

Previously, before any action could be brought against anybody within the chain an incident would need to occur — a speeding offence, road traffic accident, weights and loads violation. Going forward the legal duty has shifted from that reactive nature requiring an incident, to a proactive standard wherein members of the chain can be prosecuted for violations of the law without any resulting incident.

This makes the law similar to Work Health and Safety laws where the employer is responsible for employee safety and can be prosecuted regardless of whether an injury has occurred or not.

This legal duty of responsibility goes all the way to the executive branch of the company, meaning that regardless of how far removed they are from the day-to-day decisions upper management still has responsibility for oversight for the decisions made beneath them.

Vehicle Maintenance Requirements

 Ensuring that the vehicles on the road in full working order ensure that the roads are safer for everybody. With that in mind, another section of the HVNL that has been extended is the requirement for members within the Chain of Responsibility to ensure that all the vehicles being used in the operation of the business meet the minimum requirements for design and safety.

This means proactive regular checking that vehicles and their trailers or shipments are fit for their intended use and for driving on the roads. The exact maintenance and its schedule will vary depending on the vehicle, trailers, and the amount of usage. Following the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions should meet the minimum requirements, but it will usually be a good idea to exceed them.

Weights, Measurements, and Speed

Heavy goods transport vehicles must comply with certain requirements for their size, weight, maximum speed. It is the responsibility of people within the Chain of Responsibility to ensure that the vehicle and its cargo complies with the maximum and minimum figures for each of the components.

There are also requirements regarding driver fatigue. Drivers must not be forced to work extended hours that could lead to them becoming fatigued on the road. The responsibility here could lie with route planners, schedule setters, or the staff and executives responsible for setting the working hours in the contract.

Penalties

The penalties imposed for breaches by members of the Chain of Responsibility depend on the severity of the breach and any accidents or incidents that resulted. They are largely similar to the penalties for breaching the Work Health and Safety Act.

Initial penalties for category 3 offences can be $50,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for a corporation. Category 2 offences see those limits raised to $150,000 and $1,500,000 respectively. Category 1 offences, the most serious level, allow the courts to impose financial penalties of up to $3,000,000 for a corporation, and $300,000 for an individual. Category 1 offences also come with the risk of up to 5 years imprisonment in addition to any financial penalty.

How Does the Chain of Responsibility Affect Me?

Chain of Responsibility affects everybody involved in the operation of commercial transportation. If you or your company is involved in the transport of goods using vehicles of 4.5 tonnes or more, then the law will apply to you.

The Chain of Responsibility includes everybody from the direct operators of the vehicles, to the schedulers, from the executive staff to the packers, shippers and receivers. If you are unsure if you have a responsibility under the law the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has a downloadable checklist available here that you can use to work it out.

Failing to uphold the law in any area you have influence or control over can result in substantial financial penalties being imposed by the courts.

Why is it Important to Comply with the Chain of Responsibility Laws?

Failure to comply with any sections of the Heavy Vehicle National Law and its Chain of Responsibility sections can result in severe financial penalties imposed. Moreover, the laws are designed to safeguard employees and the public during the operation of heavy goods transport. Failing to comply with them can put lives in danger.

Do I Meet my Chain of Responsibility Obligations?

Meeting your obligations under the Chain of Responsibility laws will largely depend on the risks and factors that you have influence over. If you comply with the law in the performance of your job, then you are likely compliant. It’s also important in meeting your obligations that you don’t inadvertently break the law by taking non-compliant instructions from someone else – if you are responsible for enacting the breach, then you will be liable under the law.

What are some of the things to look out for, then?

Contracts — contractually requiring employees to work longer than is safe is a major violation and can open up a number of people (HR, legal, supervisors, executives) to Chain of Responsibility breach exposure

Routes and Scheduling — like contractually requiring employees to work unsafe hours, you must also make sure any routes or schedules don’t inadvertently do so. Pay careful attention to return trips for drivers.

Timings — even if workers aren’t being required to work longer hours than is safe, a breach could still happen if unrealistic timeframes are set for activities.

Weights — the maximum safe transport loads are carefully regulated. Check that all staff involved in the planning and loading of shipments are aware of the limits and don’t overload cargo.

Packing and Securing Loads — all heavy goods vehicle loads should be properly packaged and secured. Provide training to all staff involved in the loading and movement (including drivers) thorough training on best practices.

Speed Limits — reinforce the importance of sticking to the vehicles specified speed limits with all drivers. Utilising onboard trackers and speed limiters can help to negate liability.

With the Chain of Responsibility regulations within the HVNL having been brought into greater alignment with the Work Health and Safety Act, systems and procedures that you already have in place to meet your obligations there may be some crossover with your Chain of Responsibility obligations. It’s likely that the systems used to fulfil Work Health and Safety requirements will also go a long way towards fulfilling your HVNL requirements as well.

It’s vitally important for any organisation to stay compliant with current legislation. Conserve does the heavy lifting and allows both your procurement and WHS obligations to be met. Contact us now to learn how we can help you today.

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