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ASBFEO report suggests fatigue management rules too rigid

Ombudsman inquiry report outlines key safety concerns discussed during industry consultations


Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell says legislating rates of pay is not the way to address the issue of safety in the transport industry.

The Ombudsman’s report into the effects of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) outlines some of the major safety concerns that were raised during the industry consultations in the lead up to the inquiry.

The report says that while the inquiry was not directed to evaluate the effectiveness of existing safety initiatives, in its capacity as an advocate for small businesses, the Ombudsman’s office heard the views of owner-drivers and small operators to be able to present them to the government and regulators for their consideration.

“The regulation of safety in the heavy vehicle industry was a prominent issue in consultations given that the payments order [Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO)] was predicated on there being a link between remuneration and safety outcomes,” the report states.

“It was clear during consultations that the industry is genuinely committed to striving towards greater levels of safety.”

The subject of the National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVR’s) fatigue management guidelines was one of the key areas of discussion during all the Ombudsman meetings.

Based on industry feedback, the report found: “Fatigue management laws under the National Heavy Vehicle Law are inflexible and as a result may lead to perverse situations, such as permitting a person to drive when they are fatigued.

“There appeared to be consensus that the regulations pertaining to rest breaks are too rigid and put too much pressure on drivers.

“Rest breaks are often impacted by waiting, loading and unloading times, and some drivers described ‘grey areas between resting and working time’.

“The regulations do not accommodate different types of vehicles, variations in driving conditions and driver preference.

“Drivers further described being compelled to rest when they felt most alert and permitted to drive when they were fatigued.

“Drivers were often prevented from driving to a more suitable location to rest, such as shaded areas for livestock or an air-conditioned rest stop.”

The report also states that the industry agreed that managing fatigue through log books and work diaries was not an effective measure.

“Attendees at community consultations generally agreed that a better approach is to train drivers to recognise fatigue, and there was agreement that a fatigued driver should not be driving even if the logbook permits.”

Another issue raised during the consultations was regarding licensing requirements for truck drivers, with many of the opinion that licensing rules for overseas truck drivers are “too lax”.

“It is understood that those on temporary visas in Australia can drive under a heavy vehicle licence obtained in their country of origin (with only the Northern Territory having a restriction of three months).

“According to the Senate Committee Inquiry Aspects of Road Safety in Australia, it is only when an overseas driver holds a permanent visa that they are required to apply for a permanent licence in an Australian jurisdiction within three months (or six months in Victoria).

“The inquiry notes that the senate committee recommended that all visa holders undergo driver skill tests before their heavy vehicle driving licenses are recognised in Australia.”

Given the link between the issue and road safety, the Ombudsman recommends that the matter must be attended to by relevant authorities.

Pointing to the Transport Workers Union (TWU) advertisement that depicted the death of children to push the case for the minimum rates order, the Ombudsman says the “public debate on the issue of road safety and measures to address road safety should be based on sound evidence.

“The payments order was not the answer.

“It was based on limited evidence of a link between remuneration and safety performance and an unfounded assumption that owner drivers are involved in more accidents than employee drivers.

“Further, the payments order could not address the underlying causes of the majority of fatal multi-vehicle crashes not caused by truck drivers.”

The inquiry examined the impact of the minimum rates order in the months leading up to its commencement as well as the time when it was in force.

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