Fletcher's case a lesson for trucking industry

The writing is on the wall: any operator that ignores chain of responsibility does so at its own peril

By Brad Gardner

The recent NSW Supreme Court ruling involving Fletcher’s International Exports sends a clear warning to the transport industry.

Fletcher’s was fined almost $50,000 and received a conviction for each of the 10 loading offences that happened when it entered a contract with Kidman’s for the company to haul grain.

But don’t think for a moment the decision simply relates to loading breaches. Rather, it should be seen in the context of chain of responsibility for that was what brought Fletcher’s unstuck.

Regardless of whether it is applied to mass or fatigue management, it means the same thing—accountability in the supply chain.

As such, the decision is a timely reminder of what the industry can expect in two weeks’ time when fatigue management laws take effect, and what it must do to keep itself out of trouble.

As demonstrated by Fletcher’s role as a consignor, an operator does not need to play a direct part in transporting goods to be held accountable.

Even relying on a company’s reputation will not help. Lawyers attempted to argue Fletcher’s should not have been prosecuted because it "was entitled to expect" Kidman’s to carry out its obligations under the law.

The rejection of this argument means companies must keep regular tabs on operations, even if the work is contracted to someone else.

It may take time away from other important activities, but companies need to ask themselves if they can afford substantial fines or convictions.

The ruling also demonstrates unintentional breaches will not attract leniency. As the judge pointed out in his ruling, there was no evidence Kidman’s or Fletcher’s intentionally broke the law.

It makes no difference as far as the Roads and Traffic Authority’s (RTA) is concerned. Its dogged pursuit of Fletcher’s shows how serious it is about enforcing accountability and prosecuting breaches.

Had the ruling judge agreed with the RTA, Fletcher’s would have walked away with a fine of more than $544,000.

And that is the sticking point of chain of responsibility laws.

Granted, Fletcher’s was in a ‘severe risk’ category. But while monetary penalties are lower for minor offences, operators need to consider the flow-on effects, such as the impact a breach may have on their reputations and their ability to secure a contract.

With an increasing focus on the trucking industry’s activities, operators are kidding themselves to think potential customers will not take into account a chain of responsibility offence when handing out contracts.

If the Fletcher’s case is any example, any operator that takes a carefree approach to chain of responsibility does so at its own peril.

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