Coupling failure is justification for summary dismissal: FWC

By: Brad Gardner


Linfox sacked its driver after he failed to attach a trailer correctly. The Fair Work Commission says the company did the right thing.

Coupling failure is justification for summary dismissal: FWC
Zero tolerance: Linfox says a driver's failure to follow correct coupling and uncoupling procedures justifies termination of their employment.

 

Linfox truck drivers who fail to follow company procedures when hooking up trailers have been put on notice, with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) backing the company’s tough stance on offenders.

Linfox sacked linehaul driver Ganesh Changan when a trailer he was attaching to a prime mover came off and hit the vehicle’s chassis.

Changan launched an unfair dismissal claim, but FWC Commissioner Paula Spencer ruled that Linfox acted fairly because the driver failed to visually check the trailer was connected before performing a tug test.

Linfox’s policy requires drivers to conduct several visual checks to determine if the kingpin of the trailer has properly locked into the turntable.

Drivers are then required to perform a series of tug tests, which Changan was in the process of doing when the trailer fell off. 

Spencer says Changan’s failure to complete visual checks justified instant dismissal because of the potential consequences a detached trailer has for the driver, his fellow employees, the company and the general public. 

"A coupling failure has the potential to cause, at worst, a serious risk to life, whether it is in the yard or on the road," she says.

The commission heard that Linfox repeatedly reinforced compliance with its coupling and uncoupling procedure and that Changan had received training in how to comply with it.

Linfox told the FWC it maintained a zero tolerance stance toward unsafe practices and that a coupling failure represented a serious safety risk.

"The Respondent stated that a coupling failure was one of the most significant risks to the safety of the Respondent’s drivers and the general public. Coupling failures can result in death," Spencer says.

Following the incident, Linfox asked the turntable’s manufacturer, Jost, to examine if it was faulty.

It sacked Changan after Jost reported that the turntable was fine and that the incident was human error.

During proceedings, Changan claimed Jost was unlikely to identify a mechanical fault for fear of losing its contract with Linfox. Spencer dismissed the accusation.

"I discount this entirely. The evidence is that Jost has previously reported on mechanical faults in incidents involving a coupling failure. In these instances the driver was not found at fault and was not disciplined," she says. 

The incident involving Changan came to light after he reported it to his supervisor.

He told the FWC that it should take into account the effect his summary dismissal may have on the prospect of people reporting incidents in future. 

"The Applicant submitted that the disciplinary action evident in this matter will not encourage a reporting culture amongst the Respondent’s employees," Spencer says.

However, she says Linfox has taken the issue into consideration in balancing the potential hazards associated with failed coupling incidents.

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