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De Bruyns Transport: finding the edge

Tasmania’s De Bruyn’s Transport is very much ‘safety first’ – working hard to attract and keep younger people in the industry. With ongoing plans for expansion, managing director John De Bruyn explains how the company’s focus is on finding new ways to support its staff


There are a few things as Tasmanian as scallop pies, huon pine and De Bruyn’s Transport’s (DBT’s) distinct green and red livery.

The family business, established in 1965 by Cornelius de Bruyn but with transport roots dating back to the early 20th century, continues to evolve while retaining its strong Tasmanian identity.


Last time ATN visited, in 2014, DBT had been recognised by the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council for its employee training and safety revolution, started in 2011 by compliance and risk manager Ferdie Kroon – who now chairs the TruckSafe industry accreditation program.

DBT managing director John De Bruyn says TruckSafe was the catalyst for the program, focusing on the upskilling process to help prepare its staff for both organisational and community change.

That program is now reaching maturity, and is more important than ever, De Bruyn explains.

“Strong economic conditions in Tasmania have resulted in some challenges with recruitment and retention, with the latter, in some areas, resulting in unheralded turnover levels – our highly trained staff are a commodity that others are chasing,” he says.

“We are also trying to keep up with workload because it is quite high and we are very busy.

“So, we’re really reviewing our training efforts. We’re continuing to explore unique ways for retention as well as trying to satisfy the various needs for our clients and employees.”

“Community expectations of us as an industry have changed.

“TruckSafe has certainly helped with addressing Chain of Responsibility [COR] and safety assurance type needs but the constant audit pressure remains from clients, who are not familiar with COR and/or TruckSafe.”

The firm’s attention remains on giving young people a foot in the door – some under 21 years of age, bucking industry norms.

De Bruyn's has a strong focus on staff safety.jpg

“In the last six months, we have done about 13 licence upgrades for various people from car to heavy combination, from heavy combination to multi-combination,” De Bruyn explains.

“But we do have a very strong buddy system, so we don’t just throw a driver in a truck; they have experienced people with them to make sure that they understand what’s required – that includes specific site requirements for various clients.

“The buddy system is very important to the overall strategy of getting younger people into the industry and setting them up for success and a long career.

“If you’re not willing to train your own staff, you’ve got no right to complain of not being able to get good staff.”

The importance of a sound workplace culture can tackle prevalent industry issues such as fatigue and mental health, De Bruyn says.

“We are fortunate, in Tasmania, that when it comes to fatigue almost all of our drivers return to their own beds at end of shift and, given the size of our state and nature of various tasks, there are sufficient opportunities for breaks for our drivers.

“That said, adequacy of driver rest areas remains a real problem for us in Tasmania.

“However, if we as a business had to choose the most critical issue confronting our industry, it would be mental health – we have invested and continue to invest in mental health First Aid personnel across our business units and we are continually adapting our HR procedures to meet this ever-growing need.”

Kroon, De Bruyn notes, is still involved and busier than ever in this space.


It may be in contrast to chunks of the mainland but De Bruyn notes confidence remains high in Tasmania, particularly around construction, aquaculture and agriculture, which is driving the freight task.

Not that the firm is beholden to one industry.

It has, over its existence, adapted to different situations: from shipping sand and gravel in the early 1900s to hauling for the west coast mining industry for the best part of 50 years.


Now, it offers general freight, freight forwarding, storage and distribution and bulk cartage and cold storage.

“Our clients compete with the world, so for them to be able to be successful, they need an efficient transport system for them to be able to compete with Australia, but also globally as well,” De Bruyn says.

“We’re always looking at how can we do this better, how can we improve things, get that little bit of an edge over someone else.”


DBT has found that edge in its predominantly Volvo Group fleet, which continues to be modernised and standardised.

“Not only do we want younger and fresher looking vehicles on the road but, for the purposes of productive and cost effective maintenance, they need to be similar.

“The philosophy is around standardisation. Our fleet is now sitting around 140, and of that, 80 of those are Volvos and 50 are Macks and UDs.

“We use UD for our rigid requirements; we’ve got some FE Volvos for our 14-pallet rigids but our Volvo fleet mainly consists of FMs doing linehaul and B-double work; and we use Macks for our tipper and tanker requirements; with about 10 trucks consisting of another three or four brands.”

On site at De Bruyn's future Devonport facility.jpg

The benefits from standardisation on the driving side range from ease of induction and training to efficiencies in fuel consumption.

“If someone goes from one truck to the next in the fleet, it’s more than likely going to be the same truck that they’re driving, making that process much more seamless,” De Bruyn says.

“In the last five years, we’ve really focused on the Volvo Dynafleet telemetry system, which to us is a huge business tool that gives us massive safety benefits, but also efficiency benefits as well.

“We try and make information available to the drivers so they can see how they’ve travelled.

“What our fuel consumption was some years ago – and we thought we were doing pretty well and couldn’t improve much more – we’ve been able to shave a significant amount off our annual fuel bill as a result of the Dynafleet telemetry system.”

Given that DBT also undertakes most of its own maintenance and repairs, such standardisation also assists in the workshop.

“With the modern trucks of today, you also need the technology, the computer to be able to service and fix the truck as well,” De Bruyn says.

“So we’ve got that Volvo technology in our workshop. We’ve got laptops, we can dive into the truck and do troubleshooting and so on.

“We haven’t got full access that a dealer would have, but that allows us to maintain our fleet very efficiently.”

DBT’s boat fleet sits at three after the recent addition of a purpose-built vessel to service the aquaculture industry.

“This vessel, the Emmanuel, is a state-of-the-art fish harvesting vessel, which increases productivity for a client and improves product outcomes,” De Bruyn says.

De Bruyn's truck and vessel servicing the aquaculture industry.jpg

Reiterating the home-grown and upskilling effort, De Bruyn is proud to point to the fact that all 11 maintenance personnel are either an apprentice, or started off as one.

“Even our workshop manager started up as an apprentice and worked his way up through his apprenticeship, qualified, [became a] supervisor and now he’s a maintenance manager,” he says.

“Every year we’re taking on one or two new apprentices now. I think there hasn’t been a focus on the trade qualifications as much, so there is actually a shortage of good technicians.

“We’re doing our bit in training and, obviously, for our own requirements. But we do have people leave from time to time, so we’re also adding to the pool as well and taking that pressure off.”

Not one day is the same for the mechanics, which ultimately is a good thing, De Bruyn adds.

“We’ve got trucks, trailers, tankers, forklifts, light vehicles, boats, and we do some of our own construction as well, so our maintenance department gets very diverse training.

“Today they’re working in the workshop, tomorrow they’re doing  field service, next week they’re working on trucks doing some repairs and modifications or on one of our boats.

“That also adds to retention as well because they’re not doing the same thing day in, day out.”


Underscoring DBT’s ambition is the recent acquisition of Melbourne’s Bass Strait Transport (BST), supplemented by the move to a new much larger facility in Altona to handle freight and load trailers and containers destined for Tasmania.

A De Bruyn's and Bass Strait combination.jpg

“We certainly want to expand our business and the Bass Strait acquisition was part of that strategy,” De Bruyn says.

DBT’s big build doesn’t stop there, with a new transport terminal being developed in Devonport on a six-hectare site.

It will comprise an 8,000 square metre warehouse, office complex, a new workshop facility and some 25,000 sq m of concrete hardstand.

“Our business has been growing. We’ve now got around 250-odd trailers. And our Burnie workshop is nearly working at capacity.

“The new transport terminal and workshop facility are not just for today – they have got capacity for well into the future as well.”

On the operations side of the business, integration is one of the key goals for 2020 as DBT implements technological solutions to streamline customer service and back office compliance, human resources and safety functions across all business units.

How De Bruyn’s took over BST, here


“Another part of what we’re focusing on at the moment is the new IT project. We’ve just signed a contract for a new transport management system.

“Our clients will have access to a customer portal to book freight and the ability to track their freight.

“We see that as significantly improving the customer experience, but also reducing the back workload.

“Our current system functions well, but we feel to take us into the next decade, we need to make a significant investment in that to set us up for the future as well.”

Staff will also benefit from yearly refreshers on safety, compliance and personal health.

“That’ll become part of the annual calendar. Every employee will get a day to do a refresher.

“So, that’ll be a day session where the driver, if his medical is due, he’ll do that, but also client inductions, refreshers on various safety operating procedures as well as load restraint, extinguisher usage, even forklift safety.

“You have the initial induction, but there’s all this information that they need to keep hold of, which is easy to forget.

“We’ll implement a one day a year. Everyone gets to refresh all of that information so that they can operate efficiently and safely.

De Bruyn explains it’s part of a proactive safety approach, moving away overbearing compliance requirements.

“We know that human error happens and one of the keys to reducing likelihood is increased positive reinforcement of good safe behaviours – people tend to turn off when confronted by too much compliance and threats of punishment.”

With new developments, technology and emphasis on its people, DBT is positioning itself for a prosperous new decade and beyond.


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