Australia: Safety Management Systems (SMS) and the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL)

Last Updated: 27 February 2019
Article by Adam Vrahnos

Most Read Contributor in Australia, February 2019

Since 1 October 2018, heavy vehicle supply chain participants of all sizes have been feverishly trying to alter their business practices to stay compliant with the changes to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HNVL). One of the most notable changes is the introduction of new ‘safety duties’ which will apply to all parties involved in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR).

Everyone conducting transport activities in the heavy vehicle supply chain has a responsibility to prevent or minimise potential injury, danger or loss by ensuring their transport activities are safe.

Having a Safety Management System (SMS) in place in your business can be one of the most effective ways of meeting your safety obligations under the HVNL. Adopting and actively using an SMS has proven to help reduce safety-related incidents in other heavy transport industries, such as maritime, rail and aviation. 

This article highlights the benefits of implementing a SMS and demonstrates how an SMS can assist businesses meet its safety obligations under the HVNL. 

What is a SMS? 

A SMS is a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures, which is integrated throughout the business wherever possible. 

A SMS helps businesses continuously improve the safety of your operations through the following four components: 

  • safety policy and documentation
  • safety risk management
  • safety assurance
  • safety promotion and training.

Implementation of the above components provides businesses with a structured set of guidelines that details an organisation's processes for maintaining safety in accordance with established regulations, specifications or legislation.

As with any compliance framework, the components seek to implement communication processes, risk controls and governance practices for maintaining compliance. 

The above components and further information about how to implement the above components are set out in more detail below. 

SMS components

Safety policy and documentation

Your entire organisation should be committed to establishing and maintaining policies and procedures that ensure work is performed safely.

Business owners or executives under the amended HVNL have direct duties and are accountable for their businesses using safe practices throughout its commercial operations. Of course, executives can delegate tasks to implement those safe practices, but ultimately executives cannot delegate their duties under the HVNL. 

As a first step for limiting liability and ensuring safety across a business’ commercial activities, a documented safety policy should be in place which essentially points the business in the right direction. A safety policy should: 

  • acknowledge that executives and the organisation are committed to safety
  • reflects the business’ operating environment 
  • outlines the business’ approach to safety
  • explains how safety and risks will be managed and by whom
  • shows how the business will continuously improve its safety performance. 

As a second step, safety objectives should be implemented. The purpose of these safety objectives is to complement the safety policy, and help workers envision how safety can be achieved in practical terms. Some examples of safety objectives include:

  • conducting weekly safety meetings with employees
  • responding to all hazard reports within 24 hours
  • reviewing all risks and risk controls at least every six months
  • promoting reporting of maintenance issues to reduce vehicle downtime.

As a third step, businesses should clearly establish the safety responsibilities of each employee. Responsibilities should be clearly defined, appropriately allocated to the right person in the business and there should be a direct reporting line to upper management/ executives to report safety issues. Establishing a direct reporting line is a critical part of ensuring compliance. It allows executives to demonstrate that not only are safety measures in place but that the executive are taking proactive steps to ensure that any safety issues during the course of the day to day operations of the business are appropriately reported. 

Lastly, all staff members should make an effort to gain operational experience and boost their knowledge of safety in their organisation. Everyone within a business has some responsibility to ensure safety, and appropriately trained staff is a major step in the right direction. 

Underpinning all of the above is a need to document each step. It is often the most burdensome but it needs to be done. While a business may be confident they are compliant, that business needs to ensure the documentation can demonstrate to someone outside the business that they are compliant. Documents may include procedures, checklists, forms etc which can all be used to support the steps taken to ensure safety. 

Safety risk management

There are four subcomponents to safety risk management: Hazard identification, risk assessment and mitigation/treatment, risk monitoring and incident reporting. Together, each subcomponent ensures there is a proactive approach to managing safety and creates a process of identifying, assessing, treating and monitoring risks the business encounters. 

Your risk management processes may improve where the entire organisation is collectively working towards the day-to-day identification and management of risk. This requires all employees of all levels to be mindful of the safety risks and identify hazards that your organisation is exposed to and are likely to encounter. Employees engaged in the day to day operations of the businesses are best placed to identify different hazards such as: 

  • physical objects that are clearly visible
  • behaviours
  • a business’ policies or procedures. 

Once hazards are identified, a risk assessment should then be undertaken. A risk assessment is useful in identifying the consequences if a hazard materialises, the extent to which hazards may interact or compound, and the manner and timeframe in which these hazards should ideally be resolved. Relevantly, hazard controls should be put in place to mitigate potential risks.

After a risk has been identified and assessed, the next step is to ensure that the risk has been treated. This requires a control to be implemented to mitigate the risk and then monitoring/reviewing how that control is working to mitigate the risk. Don’t wait until something goes wrong -it’s important to review the effectiveness periodically.

As part of a businesses safety risk management framework, there should also be a robust incident reporting mechanism. Despite a business’s efforts, incidents and near misses will inevitably occur. When those incidents do occur, business’ must have a system in place to allow employees to report those incidents to the appropriate person within the business to gather that information, document it and allow the incident to be investigated/analysed to improve future safety outcomes. An incident reporting mechanism should allow collection of information relating to:

  • the types of incidents or near misses that need to be reported
  • who needs to report incidents, when and to whom
  • instructions for dealing with larger incidents, such as: contacting emergency services – preserving the site of the incident
  • attending to injuries and ensuring the safety of those involved.

Safety assurance

In addition to undertaking risk assessments, operators should also prioritise safety assurance in their organisation. Safety assurance is achieved by making a commitment to the following four aspects your organisation:

  • internal safety investigations this is a commitment to monitoring and evaluating any incidents or near-misses that your organisation encounters. Importantly, we recommend that organisations are mindful of how processes can change and be improved, as opposed to merely identifying and punishing those that are responsible
  • safety performance monitoring and management – your organisation should be mindful of how your SMS operates and any potential shortfalls it may have. It should also put mechanisms in place to allow stakeholders in your organisation to amend and improve the SMS. A significant consideration is how your SMS acknowledges and reacts to areas that are of increasing risk to your organisation
  • change management – safety risks often evolve out of an organisation’s inability to adapt to change. As a result, it is crucial that an SMS ensure the safety of an organisation by developing a structured approach to change management. This may involve increasing the participation of all employees in safety initiatives or even consistently evaluating the risk that a change may bring in an organisation
  • continuous improvement – while it may be helpful to collect data on risk management and safety, it is of equal importance that organisations are mindful of how the data collected can shape a SMS. Accordingly, we highly recommend that your organisation periodically evaluate your SMS, and implement any recommended changes to your SMS.

Safety promotion and training

An effective SMS can be achieved by promoting and communicating safety at all levels of an organisation. In practical terms this means:

  • establishing adequate training and education programs – your organisation should provide safety training which provides employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to help identify, manage and resolve safety risks, as well as perform their responsibilities safely. A helpful tip here is to provide refresher courses throughout the year to ensure that all employees are up to date
  • encouraging safety communication throughout the organisation – employees at all levels should be encouraged to communicate their thoughts on safety in an organisation. Conveniently, by opening up avenues for employees to express their thoughts when it comes to safety, your organisation's SMS may improve more holistically
  • prioritising safe practices – a successful SMS is one which is supported by all employees. Best practice states that senior management should set an example for safe working practices. Ideally this means that a new employee entering your organisation should be able to recognise the entire organisation's commitment to safety.

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.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions