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
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.
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