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Work diary debates – which logbook system is best?

Plenty has been made of the way the national work diary system is enforced. But what differences are there between the NHVR model and other separate frameworks?

When the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) was formed in 2013, it became a statutory authority to administer a single set of laws. Fatigue management was a key component behind this idea. Emerging was the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) that established a national, one-size-fits-all truck driver logbook system. It was designed to eliminate all prior issues and unite Australia’s states and territories.

But two didn’t come to the party.

Instead of conceding to the NHVR and signing on to be governed by the NHVR’s logbook system, Western Australia and the Northern Territory refused. They went with their own individual fatigue management framework. To this day, both WA and the NT operate individually, governing their truck drivers with a different system. But why?

Western Roads Federation (WRF) is the primary transport body representing truckies in WA. CEO Cam Dumesny says the state’s driver fatigue management framework works perfectly fine – so much so that he knows operators who refuse to cross the eastern border to South Australia and other NHVR-governed states.

“I’ve had drivers go east and refuse to drive anymore due to the fines they’ve incurred on the NHVR logbook system,” Dumesny told ATN. “They get slapped with fines to do with administrative issues that aren’t related to fatigue or safety infringements and don’t want to go back.”

Two similar systems?

Although WA is still adamant it doesn’t want to be part of the NHVR’s fatigue management system or the HVNL’s latest reforms, Dumesny’s description of the state’s logbook framework isn’t too dissimilar to the national system.

WA’s system works under WorkSafe WA, where a code of practice puts the onus on the employer to be the party responsible for managing its employees’ fatigue. Further industrial manslaughter laws developed by the state aims to ensure driver fatigue is a crucial component managed by transport operators.

Despite being a different set-up to the NHVR’s national logbook, WA’s system is still similar in requiring drivers to record trips and have a trip schedule.

“It’s not as complex as the eastern coast’s logbook [under the NHVR],” Dumesny says. “But it’s increasingly needed with industrial manslaughter laws now being implemented.

“The WA system also provides a more intense focus on flexibility than its eastern seaboard counterpart.”

Dumesny says the third key element of the WA logbook system is a clear distinction between work and rest. Unlike the more heavily populated freight routes along eastern coast states, there are fewer high-quality truck stops along WA’s endless highways.

The WRF CEO says the WA system recognises the state’s own unique transport network and conveys a sense of flexibility and responsibility for drivers to comply with laws while also deciding where and when they stop for breaks.

Instead, an intricate knowledge of the variable nature of fatigue in truck drivers is a key component in WA’s framework that Dumesny says is a clear difference to the NHVR’s logbook model.

“Our fatigue management system isn’t the default scheduling system that seems to be the case in the east coast’s logbook,” Dusmesny says. “A national company did studies and found most fatigue incidents occur in the first couple of hours when driving.

“So, the WA logbook has flexibility enshrined in it to allow drivers to pull up somewhere and have a break, even if they’ve taken off recently.”

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Dumesny says the WA system isn’t overbearing on drivers – truckies know they have to reach a certain destination within a timeframe but aren’t directed on where to stop and when to take breaks. The WRF CEO says this system is widely accepted amongst WA’s transport industry and there’s been limited moves to make changes.

Yet, when truck drivers cross the border over to South Australia and other eastern states, where the NHVR’s logbook governs drivers, Dumesny says that’s where the problems begin.

“We have a lot of drivers who don’t want to drive east, largely because of the logbook administrative errors,” Dusmesny says. “I had an incident with a driver around four years ago where they called me from South Australia and said he got fined around $750 for not having signed off on his logbook, even though he was resting in the sleeper while his colleague was driving – it’s this sense of relative inequity in administration that annoys WA drivers when they cross the border.

WRF CEO Cam Dumesny

“When the first fatigue regulations came out in 1938 it was one page. Now, it’s around 104 pages long just on fatigue breaches listed under the law – it’s ridiculous. Are we seriously addressing fatigue or just dealing with the administration of fatigue?”

But other members of the industry say although WA and the NT’s logbook system is separate to the NHVR’s, it isn’t that different in effect.

Comparing logbooks

NHVR fatigue specialist Andreas Blahous says when the NHVR first had the state logbook functions transferred to it in 2013 it fixed any issues before implementing the current system. Blahous says the current national model that is used in every Australian area but WA and the NT prioritises driver safety and is a well-recorded method of managing fatigue.

“The whole concept of our logbook system is to use work and rest limits as a way to forecast potential fatigue risks for drivers,” Blahous told ATN. “We have a system with limits to ensure drivers don’t work too long and put themselves at risk while ensuring they have enough time to rest, recover and sleep.

“Our work diary has clear and concise measures so drivers can self-regulate, while operators and our compliance officers can keep an eye on drivers.”

Blahous says a major benefit of the NHVR’s organised work diary model is its ability to manage and encourage productivity while prioritising the safety of truck drivers. Despite what Dumesny says, Blahous is adamant the NHVR’s system has plenty of flexibility in it to eventually allow drivers and operators to establish their own rules that allow for productivity and safety.

Although the NHVR system is rigid in structure, the NHVR fatigue specialist says the rules don’t obstruct individuality amongst drivers’ schedules.

“The rules have been deliberately constructed so drivers and operators can know what they need for work and rest and what’s best for them,” Blahous says. “We don’t want the rules to get in the way of that.

“We promote this flexibility through our fatigue choices campaign and has been addressed constantly since its inception in 2013.”

Blahous admits the NHVR’s logbook system isn’t perfect, but it has gotten better and more consistent due to reviews in recent years. He says the NHVR is constantly receptive to feedback and suggestions for improvement from operators and drivers.

With 15 years of experience on fatigue management structures, Blahous says the NHVR’s work diary and the WA system are more similar than many may think.

“What I see is there’s a lot of overlap between the systems,” Blahous says. “WA’s system has a lot of similarities to certain flexible elements present in the eastern seaboard’s regulations and vice versa.

“We have specific materials available to give to WA truck drivers when they cross the border – they can call us on 13 NHVR [6487] and we have specific advice on cross-border transport circumstances.”

Blahous says there aren’t many major differences between the two different logbook systems.  In fact, Blahous says he can only see the two variations merging closer with the introduction of electronic work diaries (EWDs). Before long, the NHVR fatigue specialist says WA and the NT’s systems may mirror the national framework soon without realising.

“Operators have come to me and said they want a logbook similar to what is seen in WA and that’s within the realms of the NHVR to grant that approval,” Blahous says. “The EWD system is making it easier to do paperwork while still keeping clear and correct information on it to enforce compliance.

“I’m keen to see an increasing number of devices approved for EWDs so we can see the work diary framework become more universal for drivers, while remaining flexible.”

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