CHAIN FA­TIGUE

Chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity on fa­tigue has been around since 1997, but there is pre­cious lit­tle to show for it when it comes to truck­ing cus­tomers. Dairy gi­ant Mur­ray-Goul­burn is a case in point, writes Steve Skin­ner

Owner Driver - - Front Page -

ONE OF the truck­ing in­dus­try’s big­gest cus­tomers, Mur­ray Goul­burn, is chang­ing its load­ing and un­load­ing pro­ce­dure to re­duce fa­tigue for driv­ers. But it took ques­tions from Owner//

Driver for the com­pany to do it. Nearly two decades of the chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity has ap­par­ently had lim­ited ef­fect on Aus­tralia’s largest dairy com­pany.

Un­til now, driv­ers wait­ing at its DC at Laver­ton North in Mel­bourne have had to stay alert, some­times for hours on end, past their time slots.

Driv­ers have to lis­ten to an FM ra­dio fre­quency for their rego and dock num­ber to be called. There is no guar­an­teed knock on the door, no pager/ buzzer sys­tem, and no phone call with ad­vice pro­vided on how to block out calls if the driver needs to sleep.

Un­til now, driv­ers didn’t know that some­one will knock on the door if they fall asleep and miss their call.

“Our driver in­duc­tion will be up­dated with in­for­ma­tion about this backup process,” pledges Mur­ray Goul­burn in an email to Owner//Driver. “All MG site staff are trained to knock on the cab should a driver miss a ra­dio call.”

One long- dis­tance driver, who re­quested anonymity, says he’s been in and out of Mur­ray Goul­burn’s Wil­liam Angliss Drive DC dozens of times over the past few years.

But un­til told by Owner//Driver, he was un­aware he would still hold his place after climb­ing into the bunk.

The im­pli­ca­tions for driver and pub­lic safety back on the high­way are ob­vi­ous, although this driver is lucky enough to be able to get off the road by mid­night and de­lay his in­ter­state de­liv­er­ies.

Be­ing on kilo­me­tre rate, he is not paid for wait­ing at Mur­ray Goul­burn.

IT’S NOT AL­WAYS CREAM

Trucks go­ing in and out of the Laver­ton North DC are a mix­ture of long dis­tance, re­gional and lo­cal, with the DC prod­ucts in­clud­ing long-life milk, milk pow­der and re­frig­er­ated cheese.

Owner//Driver spoke with numer­ous driv­ers work­ing for sev­eral dif­fer­ent truck­ing com­pa­nies.

The driv­ers have sim­i­lar sto­ries, say­ing over the years the waits have usu­ally been ac­cept­able, but can some­times blow out.

One of them de­scribed the process as “de­hu­man­is­ing” be­cause there are no ‘real-time’ hu­mans in­volved un­til the trucks are ac­tu­ally on the docks. So driv­ers can’t get an idea of how long they’ll be wait­ing once they ar­rive.

“It could be five min­utes or an hour or five hours – you never know,” one driver says, adding he’s waited up to seven hours. He es­ti­mates his av­er­age wait is two hours after the time slot, and that is be­fore the ac­tual load­ing or un­load­ing. (Driv­ers are al­lowed to ar­rive 55 min­utes be­fore the time slot.)

How­ever, Mur­ray-Goul­burn in­sists that “av­er­age ve­hi­cle turn­around time is 90 min­utes”.

“Re­cently there have been some longer de­lays than usual due to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new com­puter sys­tem,” the com­pany says.

“Dur­ing this time, MG has worked with car­ri­ers to preload ve­hi­cles where pos­si­ble to avoid long-haul driv­ers be­ing ex­posed to de­lays.

“These de­lays have now been re­solved,” the com­pany as­serts.

Mur­ray Goul­burn seems to deny that driv­ers don’t know how long they’ll be wait­ing.

“All ship­ments are is­sued with spe­cific time slots, and we have close di­a­logue with all car­ri­ers to pro­vide sta­tus up­dates,” the com­pany says.

The driver Owner//Driver spoke with says his man­ager would def­i­nitely call him if in­formed of a de­lay, but says that has never hap­pened.

There is noth­ing in the MG re­sponse about di­rectly in­form­ing driv­ers of de­lays.

NOT EASY LIS­TEN­ING

Driv­ers say just hav­ing to lis­ten to the Mur­ray Goul­burn ra­dio ‘sta­tion’ is fa­tigu­ing enough.

On one fre­quency – FM 92.5 – there is an au­to­mated voice on a con­stant loop, oc­ca­sion­ally call­ing rego plates and dock num­bers.

Mostly the au­dio com­prises warn­ings and in­struc­tions about smok­ing, ran­dom drug tests, site evac­u­a­tion, speed lim­its, stay­ing in trucks, stay­ing in des­ig­nated path­ways, safety vests, footwear, etc.

Here’s an ironic one: “Driv­ers suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of fa­tigue are not per­mit­ted on MG sites.”

De­spite all this con­stant au­to­mated talk, when we lis­tened in a car on the street be­fore con­tact­ing MG, there was noth­ing on the ra­dio about get­ting a knock on the door if you fall asleep.

On the other ‘sta­tion’ – FM 89.5 – mu­sic is in­ter­rupted by the au­to­mated voice. Depend­ing on your mu­si­cal tastes, the songs we heard could be a form of tor­ture.

Mean­while, there are no driver fa­cil­i­ties other than toi­lets.

WHAT COR LEG­IS­LA­TION SAYS

Fail­ing to in­form driv­ers of the “knock-on-the-door” back-up ap­pears to be a breach of the chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity on fa­tigue, as con­tained in the Heavy Ve­hi­cle

Na­tional Law (HVNL), which op­er­ates in Queens­land, New South Wales, Victoria, South Aus­tralia, Tas­ma­nia, and the ACT.

Sec­tion 239 of the HVNL refers to a “duty to en­sure driv­ers can rest in par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances”.

One such cir­cum­stance is where a fa­cil­ity is un­able to ad­vise the truck driver when un­load­ing is to start.

The fa­cil­ity must “take all rea­son­able steps” to en­sure the driver is able to rest while wait­ing for the goods to be un­loaded.

And by “rest”, the leg­is­la­tion means “sleep”, be­cause it goes on to give as an ex­am­ple of rea­son­able steps: “Pro­vid­ing a sys­tem of no­ti­fy­ing the driver when goods can be … un­loaded from the driver’s ve­hi­cle that does not re­quire the driver to be awake or un­rea­son­ably alert.”

If that isn’t clear enough, the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor re­cently re­leased ed­u­ca­tion ma­te­rial con­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion which should al­ready be known to cus­tomers in­ter­ested in the COR on fa­tigue.

One in­for­ma­tion sheet on COR re­spon­si­bil­i­ties says load­ing man­agers should: “En­sure ve­hi­cle load­ing/un­load­ing does not cause de­lays, and ad­vise driv­ers of any de­lays of more than 30 min­utes.”

The main en­force­ment agency for COR on fa­tigue in Victoria is Victoria Po­lice. We sent them Mur­ray Goul­burn’s re­sponse to our ques­tions and asked for com­ment.

“Victoria Po­lice is not in a po­si­tion to con­firm who may or may not be un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in re­spect of an in­di­vid­u­als and/or com­pany’s pri­vacy,” it says.

“The Road Crime In­ves­ti­ga­tions Heavy Ve­hi­cle Unit, how­ever, urges any­one with con­cerns around po­ten­tial chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity breaches to contact their unit so an as­sess­ment on any such al­le­ga­tion can be looked into and in­ves­ti­gated.”

Owner//Driver also asked Victoria Po­lice what is hap­pen­ing with a new spe­cialised COR team within that heavy ve­hi­cle unit, which was sup­posed to be up and run­ning by early this year.

That team is sup­posed to beef up in­ves­tiga­tive com­pe­ten­cies and be ca­pa­ble of go­ing all the way to the top of the chain. We re­ceived no re­sponse.

STILL WAIT­ING

There has never been a pros­e­cu­tion of a truck­ing cus­tomer un­der COR on fa­tigue any­where in Aus­tralia.

How­ever, the in­dus­try has been told the law on COR is go­ing to be tough­ened up to make prose­cu­tions of cus­tomers eas­ier – but that won’t hap­pen un­til 2018.

Many in the truck­ing in­dus­try won’t be hold­ing their breath.

“Ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion fo­cuses al­most ex­clu­sively on driv­ers and, to a lesser ex­tent, ve­hi­cle own­ers, as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for any breaches of the road law,” reads an of­fi­cial re­port.

“This is con­sid­ered an in­ad­e­quate ap­proach to en­force­ment as it fails to recog­nise that other par­ties of­ten bear sub­stan­tial re­spon­si­bil­ity for breaches. The pro­posed Bill would deal specif­i­cally with the du­ties of con­signors, pack­ers, load­ers, ve­hi­cle op­er­a­tors and re­ceivers, as well as driv­ers.”

No, that hope­ful re­port isn’t talk­ing about the up­com­ing 2018 Bill. It was about an ear­lier Bill, and was writ­ten by the Na­tional Road Trans­port Com­mis­sion way back in 2003.

The NRTC (now the Na­tional Trans­port Com­mis­sion) started work­ing on COR in 1994.

So driv­ers have been wait­ing a long time for a fair go from the law.

Of course, driv­ers wouldn’t have to sleep at DCs and other fa­cil­i­ties if they didn’t have to wait.

Even bit­ter en­e­mies in the Road Safety Re­mu­ner­a­tion Tri­bunal dis­pute agree cus­tomers should have to pay for any truck that’s kept wait­ing. The ill-fated RSRT or­dered paid wait­ing times for owner-driv­ers, but not for com­pany trucks.

Mur­ray Goul­burn says it pays wait­ing time to truck­ing com­pa­nies: “De­mur­rage and pay­ment of de­mur­rage are in­cluded in our stan­dard terms and con­di­tions.”

“It could be five min­utes or an hour or five hours – you never know”

Wait­ing at Mur­ray Goul­burn in Mel­bourne. Driv­ers will now be told they will get a knock on the door if they fall asleep

Mur­ray Goul­burn pro­duces some of Aus­tralia’s premier dairy brands

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