Under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), all parties in the supply chain have a responsibility to ensure breaches of road transport laws do not occur. This is particularly relevant in loading situations where loaders and drivers are responsible for the most critical and final checkpoint before a heavy vehicle hits the road. In this article, we look at some of the overarching compliance obligations for loaders and drivers in loading situations, as well as providing a general checklist of compliance issues to consider before a vehicle departs.
The Chain of Responsibility (CoR) regime provides various responsibilities for loaders and drivers to ensure the safe and legal transport of goods on Australian roads. Since the inception of the HVNL, there have been a number of heavy vehicle incidents that have occurred as a result of parties not undertaking the requisite checks regarding mass, dimension and load restraint prior to heavy vehicles commencing their journey.
Under the CoR, loading managers and loaders have a number of responsibilities, including (but not limited to) ensuring that a:
- load does not cause the vehicle mass limits to be exceeded; and a
- load is placed in a way and secured in such a manner that it does not become unstable, unsafe, move or fall off the vehicle.
Similarly, drivers are primarily responsible for ensuring that their vehicle does not exceed mass or dimension limits and loads are appropriately restrained.
Principal compliance matters
Examining a loader and driver's role and responsibilities within the supply chain is the first step in identifying the principal compliance issues that arise in loading situation. Although these parties have a number of differing obligations in relation to CoR, a closer examination shows that there are three aspects that overlap and should be identified as principal matters. The principal compliance matters that need to be checked off include:
- mass – including gross, axle/axle group limits, container maximum limit (for containerised cargo) and the provision of a complying Container Weight Declaration
- dimension – including that the goods are within the physical limits of the truck/tray or, if not, within permissible height/overhang limits for the vehicle
- load restraint – including that the goods are placed in accordance with the loading plan prepared jointly by the packer and driver and properly restrained (using equipment in good working condition) in accordance with the performance standards in the Load Restraint Guide and/or any load restraint guidelines applicable at any loading site.
COR compliance checklist
Although parties will have the above considerations in mind when undertaking vehicle assessments, small issues can often be overlooked in the heat of the moment. Therefore, we often advise our clients to prepare a checklist to have available inside a warehouse that can be referred to at all times, so that nothing is missed. The NHVR and RMS websites include some role-based compliance guidance which can be used as a base to work up a checklist. Although a checklist will need to be tailored to the individual business and its particular loading practices, we have identified some general points that can be implemented into any checklist:
- Driver to advise of the vehicle's gross vehicle mass, maximum load mass and axle mass limits
- Loader to verify that the load mass does not exceed the permissible limit
- If the driver/loader cannot accurately assess/determine the weight at time of loading, reduce the weight on the initial load and verify the weight at first opportunity
- Loader to ensure that the load does not exceed the dimensions of any pallet, frame, skid etc and is suitably secured/wrapped for transport and stable
- Loader to ensure the correct labelling of the load, including any mass information
- Driver and Loader to liaise in relation to loading plan, to ensure the allocation of weight over the vehicle will not cause axle mass limits to be exceeded and permit suitable restraint
- Driver and loader to ensure the load is suitably restrained, including inspection of restraint equipment to ensure that it is in good working order
- Driver and loader to ensure the load does not exceed vehicle dimension limits
- Driver to complete and provide a driver declaration form if required.
Liability under CoR
As mentioned previously, the above checklist should only be used as a starting point. In any checklist, it is important to specify the party that will be undertaking the activity. This will often depend on the circumstances, including the relevant knowledge/skill of each party and the particular loading practices in place at a site. In an ideal environment, both parties should verify each matter, given that one party in the chain can be held liable for a breach committed by another party.
It is also important for parties to remember that there are other compliance obligations in relation to CoR that will need to be implemented to show a regulator that all 'reasonable steps' have been taken. The most important one is the implementation of a CoR compliance policy, which is adopted throughout your business. Others include:
- including CoR compliance terms in contracts with all relevant parties
- providing training and instruction to those booking cargo or operating loading/unloading premises about fatigue and speed compliance management
- having a compliance incident (near miss and/or breach) register and resolution mechanism in 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.