Australia: Load restraint – It's what's inside that counts

Last Updated: 1 March 2016
Article by Nathan Cecil
Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2017

The Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws require that any goods loaded on a heavy vehicle are properly restrained. For any goods not properly restrained, any person concerned with the packing, loading or carriage of the goods is liable under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). But, the load restraint requirements don't just apply to the goods as loaded onto a heavy vehicle, they also apply to the restraint of goods within a freight container, which is usually done at the point of origin and not visible or able to be inspected by any party further down the chain. So, how do you ensure that you are discharging your obligations in relation to the restraint of goods within a container when you didn't pack the container and can't check the load restraint within it?

Load restraint requirements

Load restraint must meet the performance standards set out in the load restraint regulations and the National Transport Commission's Load Restraint Guide, essentially:

  • a load must not be placed in a way that makes the vehicle unstable/unsafe;
  • a load must be secured so it is unlikely to fall or be dislodged;
  • an appropriate method must be used to restrain the load so that the load can sustain the following forces:
  • 0.8g deceleration in a forward direction

    0.5g acceleration/deceleration in a rearward direction

    0.5g acceleration/cornering in a lateral direction

    0.2g acceleration in a vertical direction.

Load liability

In the event that a load does not meet the above requirements, the following people are deemed to have committed an offence – the driver, driver's employer, prime contractor and operator of the vehicle and the consignor, packer, loading manager and loader of the goods.

Where a corporation commits an offence, any director and person concerned in the management of the corporation is also deemed to have committed the same offence and is liable to be prosecuted and fined personally.

The current maximum fines are $52,450 for a corporation and $10,490 for an individual.

Reasonable steps

It is a defence to any load restraint offence if you can show that you took all reasonable steps to prevent the offence. But, goods may have been loaded and restrained in a container long before you have any dealings with it and where you cannot readily inspect the load restraint within the container. So, in order to prevent any load restraint offence, you have to address the loading practices of the party/parties in the chain before you.

Elements that a Court will consider in determining whether you have taken all reasonable steps include steps taken to:

  • exercise supervision or control over others involved in activities leading to the contravention;
  • include compliance assurance conditions in relevant commercial arrangements with other responsible persons for heavy vehicles; and
  • address and remedy similar compliance problems that may have happened in the past.

Recent Court decisions have identified the following practical measures as potentially being required by importers and those concerned with the loading of goods into containers:

  • notify manufacturers and suppliers (including overseas) of the load restraint requirements and performance measures applicable in Australia;
  • stow containers to minimise any space between the goods and container walls;
  • engage qualified load restraint engineers to design and/or approve any load restraint system in accordance with the performance measures in the Load Restraint Guide.

For those further down the chain (e.g. drivers, transport operators) and who have nothing to do with the loading of the goods, the following practical measures may be appropriate:

  • require consignors to warrant that goods have been loaded and restrained in accordance with the Load Restraint Guide;
  • ensure that you obtain particulars of the goods, their weight and the centre of gravity of the container, so that you can determine the appropriate truck for the task (e.g. side loader vs flat tray);
  • inspect containers before driving, to check for signs of load shift (e.g. bulging container walls, damage from container impact);
  • where any load shift is identified or later reported, require the consignor to satisfy you that they have reviewed their load restraint practices to prevent any further incident of load shift occurring;
  • for any consignors who have multiple incidents of load shift, refuse to carry their goods.

Just like in romantic movies, it's what's on the inside that counts. The CoR laws require you to look beyond the exterior and find out whether your cargo is good or bad underneath.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.

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Nathan Cecil
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