One of the most significant but under the radar changes introduced to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) in recent years was giving the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) the power to issue regulatory guidance to the industry.
The NHVR has recently released its very first 'Regulatory Advice' on managing the risks of transporting freight in shipping containers.
In Chain of Responsibility (CoR) land, the safety and compliance risks of transporting freight in shipping containers should be well known. The 2015 case of Futurewood set new legal precedent on what those importing shipping containers should do to ensure that the transport of those containers within Australia was safe. After that case did the rounds for many years, in March 2021, the NHVR commenced proceedings against a consignor of a similar imported shipping container load, alleging that they failed to meet many of the requirements set down in Futurewood.
Who is the regulatory advice intended for?
The regulatory advice is targeted at the parties within the CoR who are likely to conduct or have responsibility or control over relevant transport activities relating to shipping containers – so, consignors, consignees, port facilities (loaders/loading managers), freight forwarders (often consignors) and transport operators. As the NHVR says in the regulatory advice:
"If you consign, pack, load or unload goods, you have the most ability to influence and manage the risks associated with transporting freight in shipping containers."
The regulatory advice identifies the following businesses as likely to fall within these categories – importers, exporters, manufacturers, freight forwarders, freight brokers, shipping agents, container terminal operators, stevedores, freight consolidation or deconsolidation providers.
What are the risks of transporting freight in shipping containers?
The key risks arise from failure to pack or properly restrain goods within shipping containers. Many people fail to realise that a shipping container is not a magic box. If goods are not packed or restrained properly within a container, they can cause the load to shift and destabilise a carrying vehicle or even break out of the container. The main risks are:
- unbalanced loading – including loads that are not distributed evenly across the container or with a high centre of gravity
- inadequate restraint of loads within the container – including insufficient load restraint that permits the load to shift within the container
- safety risks for unloaders – including the risk to physical safety when unloading consignments that have shifted in transport as the result of the above risks.
Why is it important to manage these risks?
The answer is simple – unsafe loads lead to unsafe vehicles, which pose safety risks to drivers, road users, the public and road infrastructure.
Further, and with particular reference to transporting containerised loads, the regulatory advice notes that:
"Heavy vehicles transporting freight in shipping containers are significantly more likely to be involved in safety incidents than vehicles carrying general freight".
How can you manage these risks?
The regulatory advice concludes by providing tailored practical guidance to each of the parties or businesses mentioned above with steps that they can take to prevent or minimise the above risks or their consequences. For example:
- consignors can share load plans with packers to ensure that loads are packed inside containers in a way that meets the requirements of the Load Restraint Guide
- transport operators can maintain a register of load shift occurrences to ensure that identified incidents are followed up and remedied in future
- packers and loaders can ensure that they do not pack any additional items over what is stated in a loading plan without obtaining approval
- container terminal operators, freight forwarders and consolidators or de-consolidators can ensure that workers or their supply chain counterparts report any container damage suspected to be caused by poorly secured loads.
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.