Chain of Responsibility (CoR) compliance is an active and ongoing process. A CoR compliance system cannot be developed then set loose into the wilds of your business and left to either find its own way or starve.

Your CoR compliance system must be fed, trained, guided and, when it is not working properly, disciplined. In order to know when to conduct these activities, you need to be able to gauge whether your CoR compliance system has been designed – and is working – properly. One way to do this is to periodically audit the system. There are many types of audits that can be performed, at differing levels of formality, intervention and assurance.

In this article, we look at conducting a desktop compliance audit. We provide guidance on an informal audit process, as opposed to a formal audit process conducted in accordance with formal auditing standards.

What is a desktop audit?

A desktop audit is a high-level documentary review of policies and procedures. It is designed to verify that a business has developed and (at least on its face) implemented effective CoR policies, procedures and contracting practices. It also verifies that a business keeps appropriate documentary proof of implementation in order to demonstrate compliance in the event of investigation or prosecution. This type of audit involves a documentary review and can be contrasted with site or incident audits, which are designed to verify the actual on-the-ground implementation of the CoR compliance practices contained in CoR policies and procedures.

A desktop audit is inward-facing or 'first party', looking only at the policies and procedures of your business. This can be contrasted with an outward-facing or 'third party' audit of your contractors' CoR compliance policies and practices. A desktop audit can either be conducted internally by your own employees or by an external party.

What documents are reviewed?

Essentially, every document that contains or provides evidence of a CoR compliance step should be reviewed. This will include any:

  • CoR compliance policy;
  • CoR operating procedures or handbook;
  • CoR training and awareness materials provided to the board, staff or contractors;
  • board endorsement of any policy, procedures or awareness training program, e.g. board minutes or agenda materials;
  • CoR compliance board reporting guidelines, sample reports and minutes of consideration/response;
  • transport contracts (to check for the inclusion of CoR compliance assurance conditions);
  • loading or distribution centre induction handbooks; or
  • CoR compliance declaration documents, e.g. driver/loader sign-off sheets.

Assessing audits for compliance with the HVNL

As mentioned, the goal of a desktop compliance audit is to verify that the business has developed effective policies, procedures and contracting practices, and keeps relevant documentary proof of CoR compliance. Therefore, the audits will need to be assessed for compliance with the statutory requirements under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). You will need to verify that the policies, procedures and practices:

  • accurately identify the CoR roles and responsibilities applicable to the business; and
  • contain CoR compliance components that:
    • meet the applicable responsibilities; and/or
    • satisfy the requirements of the 'all reasonable steps' defence for the business and the 'due diligence' standard applicable to executive officers.

Being able to demonstrate compliance is almost as important as complying in the first place. If it isn't on paper it doesn't exist. In the event of investigation or prosecution, documentary evidence of compliance reigns surpreme.

As part of your desktop audit, you should also verify that compliance records are kept so that you can demonstrate the existence and implementation of the CoR compliance steps. If you know that certain steps are occurring but aren't being recorded, this should be identified for follow-up.

The outcome of the audit

It is important to establish that:

  • the business has all required compliance documentation in place; and
  • the compliance documentation meets the requirements of the HVNL.

So, you will be looking to identify:

  • any gap in compliance documentation; and/or
  • any deficiency (i.e. error or omission) in the compliance documentation in place.

In the same way that you can't be wilfully blind to CoR compliance deficiencies, if you see something wrong, you must do something about it. If you have identified a CoR compliance gap or deficiency and have not addressed it, this may be relied upon later by the authorities to prove a knowing breach.

Steps to take following an audit

After conducting an audit, take the following steps:

  1. Table the outcomes and recommendations of your audits with management and the board for reviewing, implementing and documenting corrective actions.
  2. Ensure that any deficiency has been corrected, and any gaps have been filled by the development, implementation and documentation of a suitable policy, procedure or practice.
  3. Schedule follow-up sessions for any deficiency that remains until all outstanding items have been resolved.

Repeat audits should be conducted annually to ensure that the system remains healthy and is modified to adapt to any changes in the law, governing court decisions or industry practice.

Monitoring CoR compliance documentation

When conducting a desktop compliance audit, it is essential that the auditor obtains and reviews copies of all compliance documentation in use within the business.

Simply asking the business for any CoR compliance documentation is likely to miss things. Some general documents (such as site induction handbooks) might not be considered by the business to be CoR compliance documents and yet often they contain compliance material that is relevant to CoR compliance, e.g. load restraint and mass compliance guidance.

In order to identify all such documentation, it is useful to interrogate the operations of the business by function, activity or process and ask for copies of any documentation reflecting this. Any irrelevant information can be discarded, but this is better than not obtaining relevant information in the first place.

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.