Cootes lost the safety imperative: Telford

By: Rob McKay

Cootes Transport’s service culture continued regardless of the state of its fleet

Cootes lost the safety imperative: Telford
Don Telford: “No one took the safety issue responsibly, particularly the management and supervisors.”


The man charged with sorting out Cootes Transport after the Mona Vale crash last year has spoken publically about the challenge he has faced.

Cootes parent firm McAleese Group appointed Australian Logistics Council (ALC) Chairman Don Telford to provide oversight and governance of safety as well as implement lessons arising from the Mona Vale tanker tragedy and subsequent review of fleet maintenance.

Constrained by legal issues surrounding the incident, Telford told the ALC Forum in Sydney the issue centred on a perversion of Cootes’ otherwise positive service culture as it became unhinged from proper maintenance levels.

Telford, who joined the McAleese board two weeks before the incident, says the biggest issue he has seen with Cootes is getting people to understand they cannot take unsafe trucks on the road.

"One of the unfortunate parts of this and I think it is an unfortunate part of Cootes’ culture, that started a long time ago within Cootes, that said ‘service at any costs’," Telford says.

"So everyone had a fantastic culture and while Ian [Cootes] was in charge of course the trucks were fully repaired, were new and modern and everyone could go out and feel safe and do their job and service the customer regardless.

"Today, after numerous owners, the fleet became run down but there was still this culture in the business that you still need to service the customer and they continued to service the customer. And that was from the driver up.

"No one took the safety issue responsibly, particularly the management and supervisors."

Telford paid tribute to the safety culture at Bluescope Steel, saying that its crucial nature and importance was appreciated at and driven from the top.

"It’s taken McAleese some time to come to that realisation," he says.

On a more general view, Telford says "until you get the culture right and people really believe in what you’re trying to do, you’re not going to succeed".

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