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Lessons to learn from narrow escapes

September 22, 2016

Under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), drivers and other parties to the supply chain often come close to the line in complying with their safety responsibilities.

Unfortunately, these narrow escapes are too often swept under the carpet for a number of reasons, including the fear of punishment for reporting these incidents and the general lack of understanding regarding Chain of Responsibility (CoR) obligations.

But there is value in identifying and analysing near misses across the supply chain, obviously, because the information contained in the `debrief` could help prevent a serious accident in future, with much wider ramifications.

What are near misses?

A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in an injury, illness or damage, but that had the potential to do so, but which do not amount to a CoR breach. The importance of identifying and reporting near misses stems from the HVNL.

Examples of near misses include not following the appropriate speed limit or incorrectly issuing a non-compliant container weight declaration (CWD).

Parties across the supply chain are naturally incentivised to write off near misses as ‘no harm, no foul’ situations because these incidents have not discernibly affected their business or their profit margins.

The concern remains that by informing relevant parties within the business of near misses, workers may face consequences, including being cautioned or even losing their job. However, this way of thinking masks the obvious truth that a near miss is often a predictor for a similar, or more serious, incident occurring at a later stage.

Real life examples of near misses under CoR:

  1. A transport operator attends your premises and is inducted into site procedures, including load restraint. He signs an acknowledgement of his understand of the requirements and is left to restrain his load. But as he is leaving an employee notices the load is not restrained properly and the driver is called back to fix the problem.
  2. An operator who arranges for a freight container to be transported has prepared a CWD before the journey has commenced. However, it is not compliant as it lists an incorrect weight. The journey is subsequently completed and no adverse incidents arise from the non-compliant CWD.

Research by Premium Driver Australia suggests in its white paper, Corporate Driver Safety: Understanding the Chain of Responsibility, that for every road-related fatality, there are approximately 50 hospitalisations, 500 road incidents and 5,000 near misses on our roads. These statistics do not even take into account potential mistakes made by other parties in the supply chain relating to loading, packing, etc.

Why is it important to report near misses?

The HVNL has identified that the circumstances of any incident, crash or near miss may form part of the matters that a court will consider in deciding whether a person was impaired by fatigue.

Likewise, the HVNL requires businesses to take steps to manage risks by eliminating CoR safety risks or mitigating the effects of any risk that cannot be eliminated. The court may consider a business’s response to prior CoR incidents (including near misses) when considering whether a business has taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to avoid CoR breaches.

Therefore, it is crucial that parties are incentivised to report any near misses to their managers in order to comply with their legislative obligations and fulfil their CoR obligations.

Identifying and reporting these near misses will go a long way towards showing the regulator that:

  • CoR is managed under the appropriate risk management framework;
  • policies, procedures, systems and processes are in place under the appropriate risk management framework; and
  • compliance is monitored with policy, procedures, task descriptions and corrective action plans.

For more in-depth, helpful advice and the latest developments surrounding your CoR obligations, subscribe to the monthly newsletter CoR Adviser. It`s the only place to find all the relevant CoR information, written concisely in plain English by the transport lawyers from Holding Redlich.

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