Blenners defends charges and denies wrong doing

In a CRTNews exclusive, Les Blennerhassett, a Director and Owner of Blenners Transport & Storage, denies any wrong doing in regards to complaints related to 742 charges, including Chain of Responsibility offences, breaching the requirements of an improvement notice and breaching the Basic Fatigue Management Accreditation conditions.

Blenners was featured this week on This Trucking Life, which aired on the ABC documentary show Four Corners on Monday night. In the expose on the state of the transport industry, a former employer suggested the company was making its drivers ignore fatigue rules and running illegally.

Asked if he believed the accusations of Blenners breaking the rules were founded, Les said: “No, and we will defend any charges.”

He also strongly denied pressuring drivers to break the law. “We have never asked a driver to break the law,” he told CRTNews.

He said in his defence that the current situation faced by Blenners was a result of a former employee featured on the Four Corners show. “This is sour grapes someone who I sacked,” he said.
Blenners is also part of the industry safety scheme TruckSafe as well as a member of the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) under the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR).

A Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) spokesperson told CRTNews that after an intensive investigation, TMR instituted proceedings against a large number of drivers for a range of heavy vehicle driver fatigue offences.

The spokesperson said the drivers worked for Blenners Transport at the time of the offences. “Forty-five drivers who worked for Blenners Transport at the time of the offences have now pleaded guilty to more than 148 fatigue-related offences,” said the spokesperson.

A total of $65,360 in fines has been imposed by the courts. “These complaints relate to 742 charges, including Chain of Responsibility offences, breaching the requirements of an improvement notice and breaching the Basic Fatigue Management Accreditation conditions,” said the spokesperson.

Queensland Trucking Association CEO Peter Garske condemned the Four Corners representation of the industry and said it only repeated a range of baseless assertions being made by the same people over the past decade.

He told CRTNews the drivers interviewed represent virtually only themselves and he made the same point on an ABC radio broadcast earlier in the week.

He suggest the credibility of most of those interviews was completely and utterly absent and could not be relied upon to paint a true picture of what occurs on the road in the industry today.
“There is no statistical data that supports the wild assertions made,” he said.

Pointing to statistics, Mr Garske said serious crash rates per 1000 trucks had decreased by 40 per cent in the past decade and less than 1.5 per cent of 30,000 interceptions by enforcement agencies in Queensland in 2012/13 revealed trucks with any major defects.

To add to the positive news fewer than 900 of the 4000 infringements issued related to fatigue among drivers of Queensland's 90,000 registered heavy road vehicles.

In regards to the role of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) he said the link between pay rates and safety was not proven as opposed to what Professor Michael Quinlan advocated on the documentary.

“Government agencies undertake considerable analysis of crash data. We have no evidence and nobody has brought to the tribunal any solid, factual data or evidence that pay is linked to causation.”

However, he said the Queensland Trucking Association's advocated for the right of owner-operators and other small to medium businesses to be able to challenge their payment arrangements but does not believe the tribunal is the place to do it.

He told the ABC truck operators are price takers, not price makers. “They struggle in an environment where big business – whether that be large trucking companies, manufacturers, retailers, agricultural industry that use our industry – the smaller operators can feel the pressure,” he said.

He said the Association has advocated that there does need to be legal recourse for those companies to test that their contracts or arrangements for remuneration are appropriate.

He repeated to CRT News: “We don't want duplication of law, we don't want the road safety remuneration tribunal playing in legislative space where appropriate legislation already exists, so that's fatigue law, workplace health and safety law, but we do believe there is a place for small to medium business to be able to have their commercial arrangements tested if there are pressures being applied to them by overt or covert means and they feel they cannot complete the task at the price being quoted to them.”

Regarding the Blenners case, Mr Garske said he was not familiar with the 742 charges against the company but stated the industry’s position is clear in its requirement for all operators to exercise management practices which prevent their vehicles or drivers from being involved in continuous breach of road law.

He said even the Blenners story was already well known to industry insiders and TMR had been working with the company to proactively improve road safety outcomes, as it does with other transport companies.

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