There has been significant activity recently in the area of safety regulation for the heavy vehicle transport industry (see our previous updates) and further reforms are on the way.

In particular, key amendments to the chain of responsibility (CoR) and executive officer liability provisions in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) are set to commence in mid-2018.

It is critical to prepare now by examining your systems and ensuring you are in a position to comply with these new obligations.

Amendments to CoR and executive officer liability

The HVNL regulates the use of heavy vehicles in all Australian states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.  At the end of last year, amendments were passed to the HVNL in the host jurisdiction Queensland to:

  • impose a new primary duty of care on each party in the CoR for a heavy vehicle to ensure the safety of their transport activities, “so far as reasonably practicable”;
  • impose a new positive due diligence obligation on executive officers to ensure CoR parties comply with their primary duty of care;
  • introduce penalties with different categories for breach of the primary duty of care, which align with the penalties for breach of duty under other national safety laws. This is currently up to $3 million for a company and $300,000 or 5 years imprisonment for an individual for the most serious offences involving recklessness.

These amendments are set to commence in mid-2018.

The reforms are aimed at distributing the regulatory burden across all off-road parties in the supply chain whose actions or inactions can influence on-road behaviour.  They will capture employers, prime contractors of drivers, operators, schedulers, consignors, consignees, packers, loaders and unloaders.

They form part of a recent trend of bringing road and rail related safety laws into line with general WHS laws. While the laws still remain separated, the core concepts are being harmonised and the laws are intended to complement each other.

Further reform to give “real teeth” to the CoR laws

More recently, last month Australian transport ministers approved policy changes proposed by the National Transport Commission (NTC) to give “real teeth” to the CoR laws, according to the NTC Chief Executive.  These include changes to:

  • allow authorised officers to issue prohibition notices to address an immediate safety risk;
  • enable direction that a whole fleet or class of vehicles be inspected where there is a reasonable belief the fleet or class is defective;
  • give the Courts the power to issue injunctions to address ongoing safety risks; and
  • allow the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to publish Court outcomes including penalties imposed.

The NTC is now developing a draft Bill to implement these further reforms.

How can you prepare?

Those in the chain of responsibility should ensure they understand the impact of the impending changes and implement systems to respond to what the law requires.  For officers, a review of existing governance arrangements should be undertaken so that each officer can be confident they are able to meet their personal due diligence obligations when the laws commence.

We can help you prepare by assisting you to understand how the HVNL applies to your business, review your systems and implement necessary changes.