SCT Logistics in FWC driver dismissal win


Driver found to have breached induction and pre-trip inspection instructions

SCT Logistics in FWC driver dismissal win
SCT-branded Mercedes prime movers

 

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has found in favour of intermodal operator SCT Logistics after it dismissed a driver for failing to follow instructions relating to new fleet inductions and pre-trip inspections.

In Wayne Wissell v Twentieth Super Pace Nominees Pty Ltd T/A SCT Logistics, the unfair dismissal case centred around the singular nature of an incident that resulted in multiple breaches, and whether the driver’s otherwise clear record outweighed the seriousness of breach of duty.

EVIDENCE

Wissell was a 62-year-old employed by SCT as a full-time truck driver with five-and-a-half years of service with the company – and 25 as a truck driver – until he was dismissed on May 30, 2019.

In March 2019, SCT took possession of 15 prime movers leased from Mercedes on five-year leases. Each carried a warranty for that period and a market value in excess of $200,000.

The new Mercedes Benz Actros Prime Movers contained upgraded technology and systems requiring SCT driver inductions.

Inductions occurred on a one-to-one basis in March and April 2019 between an individual driver and an assessor, in this case Craig Holmes, in the depot for between 20-30 minutes.

At the completion of the induction - which the commission heard included instructions around engine fluids - each inducted driver was asked to sign an induction acknowledgment sheet.

A daily driver runsheet included a mandatory pre-trip inspection of the vehicle and trailer that noted "Under Chain of Responsibility legislation it is a requirement to inspect your vehicle and trailer prior to commencing work  … If the vehicle or trailer requires immediate attention and is not roadworthy you MUST notify relevant employees".

The evidence accepted by the commissioner was that, on May 21, about three weeks after starting using the new prime mover, Wissell began a shift at 6am when he noticed the warning indicator for coolant was illuminated on his dash after turning on the engine. Twenty minutes into his trip, he pulled into a service station.

"He started opening the radiator cap. It was pressurised. He released the cap to a level that allowed pressure to escape, but did not remove it," the commission heard.

"Whilst pressure from the radiator was being released, he decided to top-up the windscreen washer reservoir with water. He obtained a container of water-based fluid from the service station.

"He returned to the truck. He placed his hand into the engine bay along the side of the engine where he believed, from past knowledge, the fill point for the windscreen washer reservoir would be positioned. He removed a cap.

"He then started pouring water based fluid from the container into the opening where he had removed the cap.

"Unknown to Mr Wissell, he had removed the cap to the oil sump. He was pouring water into that part of the engine made only to take oil.

"After wondering why an unusual amount of water was being consumed, he stopped and looked more closely. He consulted the truck manual.

"He realised that he had poured a number of litres of water into the engine oil sump, not into the windscreen washer reservoir.

"At cost to SCT, Mercedes immediately sent a technician to the service station. The technician arrived within 40 minutes.

"The technician assessed the situation and drained the oil sump of the combined oil and water mixture. He then replenished the sump with oil. He considered that the truck could be driven (and it was).

"An SCT supervisor and a replacement driver arrived at the service station. Mr Wissell was driven back to the depot by the supervisor. The truck was left with the Mercedes technician and the replacement driver."

SCT noted upon contact with Mercedes-Benz that the warranty had not been automatically voided but "it may be voidable at a future time at Mercedes’ discretion in light of the incident" and "it may be harder for Mercedes to directly link a future warranty claim for engine damage to the incident".


How both parties were found culpable in another driver dismissal case


SCT started a disciplinary investigation of the incident. Wissell initially admitted mistakes – but later changed his version of events, which the commission ultimately rejected.

The company found, and later argued to the commission, that Wissell acted contrary to his duty on May 21 by allegedly:

  • driving the truck out of the depot with the coolant warning light illuminated
  • stopping the truck on for the purposes of topping-up the radiator with coolant
  • giving misleading or inconsistent responses to explain his conduct or intentions, which eroded the employer’s trust and confidence in him.

Considering that chain of events, combined with the direct financial cost to the company, plus a compromised warranty for the vehicle resulting in a significant future financial risk, SCT terminated Wissell’s employment.

INDUCTION

Having accepted the above version of events, the commission's focus turned to the adequacy of the truck induction.

"Holmes says that during each induction, including with Wissell, he unlatched the bonnet of the truck and showed the engine block to each driver. Wissell denies that this occurred.

"Holmes says that during each induction, including with Wissell, whilst the engine block was being shown he verbally instructed each driver that, based on instructions from Mercedes and with one exception, they were not to top-up any fluids in the engine because specific Mercedes products were required to be used, and that an off-site contractor had been engaged for that purpose.

"The exception was that drivers were permitted to top-up the windscreen washer reservoir which could be filled with water. Wissell denied that any advice or instruction along these lines was given to him."

It was noted a company representative claimed he had spoken to another driver who had been inducted by Holmes and that their version of their induction was different to Wissell’s version.

VERDICT

Accepting the above representation and Holmes' account, the commissioner determined the termination – despite factors such as Wissell’s prior unblemished record, age, prospects of re-employment and mental health – was not harsh or unfair.

The commissioner notes: "I have concluded that Mr Wissell’s negligence and recklessness in pouring water into the oil sump of the Mercedes prime mover was, in the circumstances, serious misconduct warranting termination of employment in its own right.

"The further breaches of duty in driving the truck out of the depot on 21 May 2019 with an active warning light illuminated and Mr Wissell’s intention to top-up radiator coolant contrary to an express instruction added to the seriousness of the misconduct.

"I further conclude that were (contrary to my conclusion) mitigation factors weighty enough to not render the act of pouring water into the oil sump a valid reason for dismissal in its own right, when coupled with the two related breaches of duty on that same day, the breaches collectively constitute a valid reason for dismissal."

 

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