Safety compliance a collaborative affair

Throughout May, the Victorian Transport Association collaborated with VicRoads, Victoria Police and WorkSafe Victoria, together with industry partners the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) and TWUSUPER, to deliver a series of Workshops in regional centres across Victoria on road transport safety compliance issues.

The Workshops drew healthy crowds in Wangaratta, Shepparton, Warrnambool, Geelong and Traralgon, with over 300 participants across all of the events. The turn-out reflects the seriousness with which many in the road transport industry are taking the need to improve safety compliance in their businesses and across the industry generally.

While it’s not necessarily unique to Victoria, the collaboration between the enforcement agencies and the VTA is fantastic. Key representatives from Victoria Police, VicRoads and WorkSafe Victoria participated actively at each Workshop to educate, to discuss, and to listen.

I reckon that there are some salient points that came out of the Workshops that don’t just apply in Victoria, but will be equally noticeable in other States / Territories over the coming months and years.

Firstly, all of the enforcement agencies in Victoria have faced reductions in their personnel, organisational structures and funding. They readily admit that they have lost expertise, knowledge and some skills. But, this has meant that they are learning how to adapt – to change the way they “do business”, whether it relates to on-road enforcement, Chain of Responsibility investigations and prosecutions, or the need to forge better partnerships with other agencies and industry to do “more with less”.

The outshot of these organisational changes is that enforcement agencies will work smarter, not harder, to target non-compliance and illegal activity. VicRoads inspects over 40,000 vehicles annually, while the Heavy Vehicle Unit of Victoria Police intercepts close to 4,000 heavy vehicles per year. Where the “multiplier effect” kicks in is that the authorities are now sharing enforcement data on an unprecedented level. VicRoads data is merged with Police data, and with information from WorkSafe about the safety record of companies within their depots and other workplaces, to track patterns of non-compliant behaviour.

The merging of enforcement data and the study of patterns of behaviour leads to certain operators rising pretty rapidly to the top of the non-compliance list (or the bottom of the barrel, whichever is your perspective). In the future, it will be very hard to hide from this, at the operator level, at the driver level, and even for other parties in the chain of responsibility.

Once the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) sheds its “training wheels” and starts to become more effective in coordinating compliance & enforcement activities and chain of responsibility investigations, the effectiveness of data sharing should be further enhanced. Before that though, don’t underestimate the cooperation and coordination of enforcement authorities across State borders. The Cootes Transport episode demonstrated the levels of enforcement coordination that can occur. This will happen increasingly into the future.

In the case of Police and VicRoads, specialist mechanical staff are being utilised to intensify on and off road inspections and accident investigations, while transport operator records, such as fuel card invoices, run sheets and consignment notes, and weighbridge dockets are being cross-referenced against Work Diary entries to verify work and rest activities.

From an industry perspective, we shouldn’t view these changes negatively. Instead, we know at least from our cooperation with the enforcement authorities that they are willing to work with companies that want to be honest and collaborative to educate drivers and operators, and other parties in the chain, and to work with them to help to improve their safety and compliance performance. And, the new Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) gives them plenty of scope to do this ahead of infringements and prosecutions. The commitment of the enforcement authorities to act this way was evident in their collaboration with the VTA and ARTIO through the series of Regional Victorian Workshops.

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