OUR SAY: Harris takes a bullet so you don't have to

Harris Refrigerated may be $15,000 worse off for a loading breach, but there's a lesson in it for other operators

By Brad Gardner | February 12, 2010

Government websites are notorious things.

Valuable information is buried beneath never-ending links and sub-links or scattered across multiple sections of the site to the point where you wonder if anyone wants you finding what you need.

Dogged by these problems, some sites are as inefficient as the departments they represent.

And if you do manage to dig up contact details to speak to the relevant bureaucrat, you’re likely to endure another round of frustration.

Those unfortunate enough to listen to one of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speeches—just what is "detailed programmatic specificity" anyway —know the pitfalls of bureaucratic language.

You will probably leave with more questions than before because, whether intentional or not, bureaucrats often speak in a backwards language.

It’s no wonder there is sympathy for the plight of Harris Refrigerated Transport.

The operator was busted last year by regulators for being more than 40 tonnes over South Australia’s prescribed mass limit of 42.5 tonnes. The length of the B-triple also exceeded restrictions by more than 14 metres.

Yet it had tried beforehand to see if it needed special permits for the vehicle. First, Harris went to the Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure’s (DTEI) website for information.

Lucking out, it tried speaking to a bureaucrat. Unfortunately it gained incorrect inferences and thought it was fine to chuck a more than 80 tonne load on the B-triple.

The Supreme Court judge noted the company had trouble finding the relevant information, but upheld the previous ruling that convicted Harris and fined it $15,000. The company driver was also fined $3,000.

And here is the lesson for trucking operators: Ignorance is not bliss. Despite what the popular saying advocates, pleading to regulators that you are unaware of the rules will not help you.

Although it’s a painful exercise to trawl through convoluted websites or sit through sometimes infuriating lectures from government representatives, it’s a lot more painful to be whacked with a fine or a conviction.

And with chain of responsibility now covering almost all aspects of the industry, operators must also ask themselves: how much work will I get if I have a conviction next to my name?

The case of Harris Refrigerated is a good lesson for trucking operators. It’s just a shame it took a fine and conviction for the message to get out.

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