Adjusting to our new normal – what have we learnt?

In the heavy vehicle industry it’s common to hear the phrase 'without trucks, Australia stops'.

In the heavy vehicle industry it’s common to hear the phrase ‘without trucks, Australia stops’.

Throughout 2020 during the COVID-19 crisis, the industry has again proven this is true, thoroughly earning the status of essential workers.

Whether it’s making sure supermarket shelves are stocked, transporting critical medical and hygiene supplies to support health workers or keeping important industries like construction and energy moving, our industry has been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

The second wave of the coronavirus, which, at the time of writing, is significantly impacting Victoria and beginning to cause concern in other states, has reminded us that Australia is not out of the woods.

This global pandemic has brought significant social, economic and logistical impacts to virtually every industry and many of our communities. We are all confronting a new normal and our industry is not immune.

The industry, governments and the NHVR have implemented a number of measures designed to ensure the heavy vehicle industry can continue to operate safely and efficiently through these challenges.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to learn from our experiences and ensure we don’t fall back into the way things have always been done. Our challenge is now creating a culture that embraces change to enable our industry to operate effectively; just like the National Cabinet is changing the way governments operate — we need to do the same.

For me, engaging directly and regularly with industry and government partners has allowed us to collectively progress solutions in an agile manner.

It has demonstrated that we can achieve improved outcomes in days, not years and there is no reason this model of engagement can’t continue moving forward.

One of the clear initial impacts of the virus was getting freight to supermarkets across the country.

As key players in the supply chain, getting trucks moving as efficiently as possible was critical.

The NHVR worked with a number of state governments to implement relaxations of curfews to allow freight movement across broader time periods and outside of peak travel times.

The NHVR also agreed to waive restrictions on all curfew permits, except those related to safety and access, to move general freight and grocery deliveries as part of the national response to coronavirus.

At the time of writing, we’ve extended the curfew relaxation out until 21 September 2020. Moving forward, it’s sensible to consider implementing this flexibility more permanently for the longer term.

The pandemic has also highlighted the key freight routes that are critical for the movement of essential supplies and the importance of ensuring these routes can be accessed by higher productivity vehicles.

It’s a priority to ensure going forward that infrastructure funding is targeted at upgrades and replacements along these key routes such as the Hume Highway.

The NHVR also made changes that minimised the need for face-to-face audits for operators in the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS).

We’ve also allowed heavy vehicle drivers operating under Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM) or Basic Fatigue Management (BFM) to continue to drive with an expired driver medical (unless high risk), until they can practicably obtain one.

We’ve had great feedback about the remote accreditation changes and will look at how we can deliver more remote engagement into the future.

With additional restrictions around social distancing and food service impacting service stations across all states and territories, we received a lot of concerns about access to amenities. We worked with major service stations companies and industry organisations to keep facilities open for drivers.

We also developed a map of service stations, integrated with our route planner, so that drivers could quickly and easily understand what facilities are available.

Over the coming months and years, as things likely continue to fluctuate, we will keep this information updated so that drivers know where they can go.

We’re working closely with the Commonwealth to continue to establish national consistency, including in the requirements for cross border heavy vehicle movements (both state and local government) through the use of common forms and permits to ensure the continued timely movement of freight.

This would be an extremely positive outcome for the industry, given the fact that we will continue to be dealing with this pandemic for months and years to come.

We recently released a series of COVID-19 quick guides, checklists and templates as part of the NHVR’s Safety Management System suite, at the request of operators. This material can be easily modified to include company information and add additional topics that are specific to businesses, including any recent safety incidents and lessons learned.

Ultimately at the NHVR, our mission is a safer, more productive heavy vehicle industry for everyone, especially as we navigate this new normal. To achieve that goal we need input from everyone across the industry, because we know we don’t have the monopoly on good ideas.

I am always keen to hear from drivers, operators, road managers and anyone else in the industry about things we can do to improve. So if you’ve got a great idea, please get in touch. Stay safe.

Sal Petroccitto,

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