Managing the hazards and risks associated with heavy vehicles in the construction industry for operators and principal contractors are the latest subjects in the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR)'s new regulatory advice series.
These latest regulatory advices follow on from the NHVR's regulatory pieces on managing the risk associated with transporting freight in shipping containers and light to medium heavy vehicles. This particular topic comes off the back of reports from compliance officers and the 2021 National Roadworthiness Survey, which indicate that heavy vehicles have an observed pattern of non-compliance when used in construction activities.
Who are the regulatory advices for?
These advices are for heavy vehicle operators and principal contractors who engage in transport activities within the construction industry and their executives.
'Transport activities' include all the activities associated with the use of a heavy vehicle on a road, including safety systems, business processes such as contract negotiation, communication and decision-making. The term also covers activities normally associated with the transport and logistics sector, such as training, scheduling, route planning, managing premises, selecting and maintaining vehicles, packing and loading.
Legal obligations of principal contractors and operators in the construction industry
The regulatory advices aptly point out that both operators and executives must comply with the primary duty under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) to ensure as far as reasonably practicable the safety of their transport activities. Additionally, executives also have the additional responsibility to ensure their business compiles with its primary duty.
Failure to comply with these primary duty obligations can result in one or more enforcement measures being taken, this includes formal warnings, enforceable undertakings, infringement notices, improvement notices, prohibition notices, injunctions and prosecution.
Why is this an issue for the construction industry?
According to the NHVR, there is evidence to suggest that there is a pattern of non-compliance in the construction industry. Further to this, recent state and federal government agency initiatives which have been implemented to assist the economy recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant a significant increase in infrastructure and construction projects. This has led to an associated increase in heavy vehicle use, which in turn has meant a greater potential for safety breaches and hazards.
What are the safety risks and hazards?
The NHVR recommends that businesses undertake a risk assessment to identify the specific risks and hazards applicable to either the operator or primary contractor and consider what control measures are required to prevent those risks.
Some of the risks and hazards identified by the NHVR for the construction industry are as follows:
- mechanical safety of vehicles, especially heavy rigid truck and trailer combinations
- loads not being properly restrained
- vehicles exceeding mass and/or dimension limits.
These then tie into more broader related hazards which are known across industries, including:
- driver fatigue
- alcohol and drug impairment
- vehicles complying with access requirements
- timeslot allocation/queuing (principal contractor)
- prohibited requests/contracts (principal contractor).
Managing these risks and hazards
The NHVR recommends a number of ways to manage these risks and hazards. Examples of some of these recommendations in relation to the construction-related risks are outlined below.
- implement a daily checklist for the mechanics of its heavy vehicles
- have a maintenance, fault and defect history recording and reporting system
- ensure any reported faults or defects are responded to in a timely manner
- monitor the age of its heavy vehicle fleet (vehicles with an age of 12 years or more are generally associated with higher levels of defects).
Principal contractors should:
- view an operator's maintenance regime and records
- request that the operator provide details of their compliance history
- give preference to operators who hold relevant safety accreditations
- be aware of the age of an operator's heavy vehicle fleet.
Load restraint, mass and dimension limits
- identify the mass and dimension requirements that apply to each vehicle or combination and communicate that information to employees and other relevant parties
- provide drivers with training and the requisite equipment to ensure dimension requirements are met and to safely restrain loads
- provide drivers with accurate load weights and dimensions before or at the point of loading
- develop load restraint systems for common loads and provide to employees and other relevant parties
- not enter contracts or arrangements that have a risk of causing a driver to breach mass, dimension and loading requirements
- have regular check-ins with employees and other parties to (openly and transparently) communicate risk, controls and best practices.
Principal contractors should:
- install relevant equipment and infrastructure on construction sites to assist operators with properly restraining, weighing and measuring loads on heavy vehicles
- ensure that both on-site loaders and excavators and operator vehicles are fitted with relevant weighing systems
- use other methods for ascertaining load mass (in addition to traditional methods) (for example, test weighs, calculation by use of known mass of loads (equipment, concrete, common steel products).
Finally, the advices provide operators and principal contractors with further resources to assist them with their regulatory compliance.
NHVR regulatory advices are a great starting point for understanding your legal obligations under the HVNL. They are easy to read and understand and provide practical advice on the steps individuals and businesses can take to start managing and, in some cases, eliminating their safety risks and hazards.
However, these advices are only starting points and provide a general guide and advice only. There is no substitute for proactive action and personalised risk assessment and management.
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.