Chain of Responsibility

Release date: 1/09/2015

Australasian Transport News, by Steve Skinner, September 2015

One of the biggest customers of the Australian trucking industry could be vulnerable to chain of responsibility on fatigue, this time for its own company drivers

Regular readers will recall two previous ATN features highlighting cases where packaging and recycling giant Visy appeared to be thumbing its nose at the chain of responsibility (COR) on fatigue.

At Visy's Adelaide paper reels distribution centre (DC) and Tumut paper mill, truck drivers for transport subcontractors were exposed to fatiguing and therefore potentially dangerous waiting practices.

In both cases, Visy acted to the benefit of its subcontractors' drivers after involvement from the authorities.

Now Visy is accused of neglecting its own directly employed long distance drivers at one of its own regional depots.

Ironically, the complaints come from the Visy yard at Shepparton in Victoria, home town of the company's late founder, billionaire 'cardboard king1 Richard Pratt.

ATN is told that, at the time of writing, there is nowhere for visiting long distance drivers to sleep at the Shepparton depot, and motel rooms are no longer provided.

What passes for a 'bunkroom', in a small demountable building, has a fold-down couch with no linen and blankets; no covering on the windows; and no heating or cooling. There is a TV but it doesn't work.

That room is right next to the depot dining room, which is used all day by local drivers and other staff. There is an open doorway between the two. We are told that an external sliding door and people talking makes sleeping near-impossible.

WAITING GAME The Visy Logistics depot and warehouse at Shepparton is regularly visited by half a dozen Brisbane-based Visy B-double drivers, among other long distance drivers.

Their freight includes not only Visy products such as paper reels, but general freight for outside customers including tinned fruit, powdered milk and bleach.

The Brisbane drivers often have to wait for trailers to arrive or be loaded, in which case they can sleep in their truck bunks if they need to.

That's if their prime mover isn't being used as a yard tug.

They sometimes also need to wait around the yard during the day for work to be done on their prime movers. This could range from having tyres fitted which might take a couple hours, to a full service at a nearby dealership which could take all day.

That dealership has a bunkroom but it's above the workshop. In any case, including the bobtailing in their logbook would cut into the drivers' seven-hour rest break at each end. The prime movers are usually delivered by workshop staff.

Drivers say that up until a couple of years ago long distance runners could book ahead for a motel room if they knew something such as a service was coming up. But these rooms are no longer available from Visy.

BAD START The Brisbane-based drivers usually need to start back north at the end of the day.

One of them told ATN that they are often fatigued before they start, because they can't sleep when they want to if their prime mover is needed or being worked on.

He says sometimes long distance drivers have been driving all night before arriving at Shepparton.

"We walk around the yard, kick stones, talk to the boys to see what's going on, talk to the workshop to see what needs doing to the truck, sit around in the smoko room. That's about all we can do," the driver says.

Of the couch, he says: "You're lucky if you get 40 minutes sleep".

He says the usual refrain from management about what he describes as the "disgusting" facilities is: "We're working on that; we're working on that".

The driver says the fatiguing situation creates extra pressure on the road at night.

TOP, CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: The front gate at Visy Shepparton; Big drive ahead: a long distance driver heads out of the Visy depot at Shepparton; A long distance driver waits to turn in to the Visy depot

"You've got to drive after walking around all day, try to get the maximum hours in and get the distance up the road so you can get to Brisbane on time.

"But a couple of times I've thought: 'f*** this, I'm going to bed. I'm going to have to do this tomorrow and make a big day out of it', and even cheat on my logbook to get there.

"I know other drivers who do the same."

The driver says this is all in stark contrast to a small company in Brisbane which acts as a subcontractor to Visy, and has eight individual bunkrooms.

LOCAL SUPPORT This Brisbane-based driver's claims are backed up by a local driver.

He says the fatigue concerns have been regularly raised with management, who keep saying things will improve.

But he says nothing has been done, and the site OH&S committee has even been disbanded.

"I feel like the top of Visy doesn't know what's going on," the driver says.

"If they did know, I've no doubt they would have addressed the situation by now."

Of the company in general, he says: "We were under the impression that Visy was the bee's knees of companies to work for.

They've always had good equipment and any Visy site we've gone to has had really good facilities.

"But it's never happened in Shepparton."

UNION CONCERN ATN spoke with Shepparton-based Transport Workers Union (TWU) organiser Daryl Coghill after being told of the drivers' concerns.

He said the union is currently negotiating a new collective agreement with Visy, but the Shepparton facilities are not part of those discussions.

He rates the payment system as a safety concern, with one of the bones of contention being long distance drivers having to wait more than three and a half hours at customer locations and Visy warehouses before being paid any waiting money.

He says there is therefore less incentive for Visy management to ensure minimal delays.

Coghill has lived in the Shepparton area all his life, and was a local and long distance driver for more than 20 years before working for the union.

He says he has been visiting the Visy site for eight years, and has seen things increasingly deteriorate since Visy bought the operation from logistics giant Patrick about four years ago.

"Chain of responsibility requires companies to take all reasonable actions to make sure drivers are rested and not exposed to risk and fatigue," he says.

"From what I've seen, it doesn't appear to be happening at Shepparton.

"From my experience in talking to management, the care factor would be very close to zero. It just shows you that parts of the industry haven't progressed at all."

THE RULES Section 229 of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) says a party in the COR "must take all reasonable steps" to ensure another person does not drive a truck "while the other person is impaired by fatigue".

In addition, Visy Logistics is a signatory to the Retail Logistics Supply Chain Code of Practice, administered by the Australian Logistics Council (ALC).

That code says that consignors have to provide access to adequate facilities to "minimise the risk of driver fatigue". It also requires independent audits.

Visy Logistics is also accredited under Basic Fatigue Management (BFM), giving its long distance drivers a 14-hour logbook.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) guidelines for BFM stipulate that operators must keep more than two dozen different lots of documents.

But the guidelines don't say anything about sleeping conditions for drivers.

NHVR RESPONSE The NHVR did not make any comment about the drivers' claims in this story.

In a statement, NHVR chief executive Sal Petroccitto said BFM accreditation does not prescribe minimum conditions for bunkrooms or sleeping facilities, because this is already broadly provided for in the HVNL.

"Section 238 of the HVNL requires loading managers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that arrangements for loading and unloading do not cause drivers to breach fatigue laws," Petroccitto says.

Petroccitto says "as a matter of priority" the NHVR is developing a safety education program so that all parties in the COR understand their obligations.
Visy did not respond to our requests for comment on this story.

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