Speaking up for better safety

This meeting brings together Australia’s transport ministers. The ATA and other industry organisations are observers at the meeting.

The ATA will use the meeting to follow up on two of the big issues we raised last year, the first being the review of the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS).

While we know that no accreditation scheme can prevent every accident, the NHVAS has a number of major problems in its current form.

One particularly unpleasant surprise was discovering that under the NHVAS, failure to resolve non-compliances does not result in suspension of NHVAS accreditation.

Operators in NHVAS choose and pay their own auditors. There are many diligent NHVAS auditors and operators, but there is evidence that some operators have shopped around to get the audit results they wanted.

The ATA’s TruckSafe scheme is far more rigorous, and records better maintenance outcomes for its members.

Unlike NHVAS, the TruckSafe standards require every enrolled vehicle to undergo a roadworthy assessment every 12 months. It’s also the only accreditation program that includes regular checks of speed limiter equipment.

TruckSafe holds its audits as a point of pride. Auditors are selected by TruckSafe, not by the business being audited.

The ATA will also ask ministers to extend the chain of responsibility concept to cover vehicle maintenance.

At present, company directors and executives can be held to account if their business does not take all reasonable steps to prevent fatigue and speed breaches. There are no similar requirements for maintenance.

Maintenance levels are generally very good in our industry. As operators, we put a great deal of effort into making sure our equipment is safe. However, there are a small percentage who choose to skimp on maintenance in order to save money and time.

I’d like to emphasise that extending the chain of responsibility to maintenance does not mean a director or manager would be prosecuted personally if a vehicle left their yard with a defect.

It would, however, compel businesses and their senior managers to take all reasonable steps to make sure maintenance staff can do their jobs properly – for example, by delivering adequate budgets, resources and training.

It has been argued that maintenance is not a significant contributor to accidents in our industry. Vehicle defects directly account for less than five per cent of heavy vehicle accidents.

However, accidents in transport are often caused by a number of different problems that accumulate to the point where the accident occurs.

So the immediate cause of an accident could be speed, but the reason it became an accident and not a near miss was because of poor brakes or other maintenance issues.

Sadly, maintenance related accidents are more than just hypotheticals.

The free resource library on the ATA website hosts a growing number of coronial reports into truck crashes, which can be viewed at www.truck.net.au/resource-library. Several of these accidents were found to involve maintenance issues.

By holding parties accountable for activities such as lack of maintenance or failing to allocate resources for repairs, we believe the industry will be able to improve its safety record further.

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