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Heavy vehicle width increase supported

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Following the completion of its study on optimum heavy freight vehicle dimensions in Australia, road transport and traffic agency Austroads has said it supports increasing allowable heavy vehicle widths.

“The evidence supports increasing the maximum allowable heavy freight vehicle width from 2500mm to 2550mm (including attachments),” the agency stated.

“New Zealand has allowed heavy freight vehicles to operate at 2,550mm without restriction since 2017 and there has been no reported or anecdotal evidence that the wider vehicles are more likely to be involved in a crash.

“Most of Australia’s trading partners regulate a maximum heavy freight vehicle width of at least 2,550mm and many allow 2,600mm for refrigerated vehicles. This means that most imported heavy freight vehicles must be modified to comply with Australian standards before use in Australia.

“There is a substantial fleet of heavy freight vehicles already entitled to operate in Australia with a width of 2,550mm through exemptions or permits from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator or through the Australian Design Rules and Heavy Vehicle National Law.

“This results in productivity impacts (increased costs of procuring new vehicles and increased cost for operations of modified vehicles) and additional regulation and administration costs in getting approvals from road agencies and National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

“The need to modify imported heavy freight vehicles before use on Australian roads also results in safety impacts, due to slower penetration of newer vehicles with modern safety technologies and limitations on installing safety technologies which extend beyond the 2,500mm width,” Austroads said.

Some respondents said their support is conditional on mandated safety technologies being included as part of the change. Others raised concerns about the potential impact on domestic manufacturers and challenges for road managers when assessing the risks of wider vehicles.

Austroads said these risks could be mitigated through mandating driver training and implementing specific safety technologies.

A number of respondents also suggested the maximum allowable width should increase to 2,600mm.

“The option to expand the policy change to allow some vehicles access at 2,600mm is recommended for future consideration after the 2,550mm relaxation has been proven on the network,” Austroads said.

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‘Stop the blame game’ driver’s widow pleads

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South Australia Police has been taken to task for the heavy-handed way it treated the family members of a truck driver who was killed, after he collided with another truck head on during a sandstorm. The driver of the other truck also died.

The driver of the truck who police later investigated had made a quick decision to swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid hitting a car which had parked in the middle of the Sturt Highway. Two other trucks were following behind him.

Director of the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA), Steve Shearer, said the mother and uncle of the deceased driver were treated like “terrorists” when officers raided their home searching for evidence of driver fatigue.

When police arrived, the family didn’t know at the time that the truck driver had died, and the police refused to inform them.

Additionally, the police were told beforehand that the deceased driver had been working for himself and that the truck involved in the collision didn’t belong to the raided company.

“The police were told that and yet they still attended and acted as if they were dealing with criminals,” Mr Shearer said.

“They demanded documents, which they are entitled to ask for, but it is quite clear, given what they’ve asked for, that they are treating these individuals who have just lost their son and nephew, as if they’re criminals. And it is not acceptable.

“It was neither necessary, nor reasonable. It’s unconscionable and we’re extremely angry.”

Mr Shearer said that SARTA will be lodging a “very serious complaint” about this matter.

The wife of the other truck driver who was killed issued a public statement through the Transport Workers’ Union SA/NT (TWU) in response to the fatal incident.

“Brenden was a loyal husband, father, friend and colleague. He had been a driver for most of his working life, starting in the job when he was just 16, and he loved his job,” she said.

“He was very conscientious about safety but he knew that many truck drivers are forced to focus on making the deadline and delivering the load.

“Drivers should be allowed to do their jobs safely and come home to their families. There are too many drivers being killed on the roads.

“I’d like the blame game to stop.

“Drivers are copping the blame and fines for rules which put all the focus on the drivers.

“It just piles more pressure on and makes the job even more dangerous.”

Branch Secretary of TWU SA/NT, Ian Smith, said that truck drivers “should not be forced to sacrifice themselves to get a job done”.

“We would like to see the companies at the top of the transport supply chain being held to account for the safe delivery of their goods,” he said.

“We would like to see the pressure lifted from drivers and transport operators so that they can do their jobs, maintain their trucks and operate safely and in a sustainable manner.

“In too many cases today safety is being cut so that big retailers, manufacturers and oil companies can make profits.

“That isn’t fair and it is costing lives.”

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Woolworths avoids prosecution with enforceable undertaking

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Woolworths has entered into a $1.8 million enforceable undertaking with NT WorkSafe following the death of a man at Hibiscus Shopping Centre in Darwin.

The man had fallen asleep in the store’s loading dock area. He was run over by a subcontractor’s prime mover as it was leaving. The driver did not see him.

Both the freight company Glen Cameron Nominees and Woolworths were charged for the incident, each with breaching Section 32 of the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 for failing to comply with a health and safety duty.

Glen Cameron nominees received a $154,000 fine in March for the incident.

NT WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Melissa Garde said $1.6 million of Woolworths’ $1,793,500 enforceable undertaking will be spent on upgrading the infrastructure of back docks at all Woolworths stores in the Northern Territory.

Woolworths has already spent $500,000 securing the loading dock at its Hibiscus Shopping Centre store, as well as other Woolworths loading docks in the Territory that were considered to be high risk.

“Being struck by a vehicle or other mobile plant like forklifts, is a major hazard in workplaces across the country,” Ms Garde said.

“Shopping centres have a high level of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and the Hibiscus Shopping Centre loading dock was routinely used as a short cut.

“All retailers should look at their traffic management arrangements to ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur at their workplace.”

Woolworths will also be required to spend more than $50,000 on research and development into technology for continuous controlled monitoring of loading docks, as well as develop a retail dock safety guide and deliver free industry presentations on traffic management risks.

Also, $51,000 of the enforceable undertaking will be spent on the community, including a donation of 17 defibrillators to be distributed by St John Ambulance.

Details of the Woolworths enforceable undertaking can be found here.

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Midnight snacking can combat fatigue

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A study conducted by the University of South Australia has revealed whether altering food intake during a nightshift can impact fatigue and wellbeing.

Testing the impact of either a snack, a meal, or no food at all, the study found that a simple snack was the best choice for maximising alertness and productivity.

Lead researcher, UniSA PhD candidate Charlotte Gupta, said the finding could potentially help thousands of nightshift workers.

“In today’s 24/7 economy, working the nightshift is increasingly common, with many industries – health care, aviation, transport and mining – requiring employees to work around the clock,” Gupta said.

“As a nightshift worker, finding ways to manage your alertness when your body is naturally primed for sleep can be really challenging.

“We know that many nightshift workers eat on-shift to help them stay awake, but until now, no research has shown whether this is good or bad for their health and performance.

“This is the first study to investigate how workers feel and perform after eating different amounts of food.

“The findings will inform the most strategic eating patterns on-shift and can hopefully contribute to more alert and better performing workers.”

Out of Australia’s 1.4 million shift workers, more than 200,000 regularly work evening or night shifts.

As working at night conflicts with a person’s circadian rhythm, it is harder for them to stay focused and awake, thus making fatigue management a critical workplace health and safety issue.

The study assessed the impact of three eating scenarios during a seven-day simulated shift work protocol:

  • a meal comprising 30 per cent of energy intake over a 24-hour period (e.g. a sandwich, muesli bar, and apple) consumed at 12:30am;
  • a snack comprising 10 per cent of energy intake (e.g. just a muesli bar and apple) consumed at 12:30am; and
  • no food intake at all.

The 44 participants in the study were randomly split into the three test conditions and were asked to report on their levels of hunger, gut reaction and sleepiness.

The results showed that while all participants reported increased sleepiness and fatigue, and decreased vigour across the nightshift, consuming a snack had reduced the impact of these feelings more so than a meal or no food at all.

The snack group also reported having no uncomfortable feelings of fullness as noted by the meal group.

Gupta said the next step in the research is to investigate how different types of snacks affect shift workers differently.

“Now that we know that consuming a snack on nightshift will optimise your alertness and performance without any adverse effects, we’re keen to delve more into the types of snacks shift workers are eating,” she said.

“Lots of shift workers snack multiple times over a nightshift, and understanding the different macronutrient balances is important, especially as many report consuming foods high in fat, such as chips, chocolate and fast foods.

“We’re keen to assess how people feel and perform after a healthy snack versus a less-healthy, but potentially more satisfying snack like chocolate or lollies.

“Ultimately, the goal is to help Australian shift workers stay alert, be safe and feel healthy.”

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HVNL fatigue laws ‘unfair and absurd’ NatRoads says

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The National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) has criticised the current fatigue management laws in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) in its response to the issues paper, Effective fatigue management, published by the National Transport Commission (NTC).

NatRoad CEO, Warren Clark, said that NatRoad had provided the NTC with a number of case studies prior to the publication of its fatigue management issues paper.

“Each of those case studies about real member experiences shows the unfairness and absurdity of the current fatigue management laws in the Heavy Vehicle National Law,” he said.

“What other Australian worker expects to receive a fine of $165 for not recording some information in a work diary?  No one does.  But truck drivers put up with these indignities every day.  Administrative fines for an error in failing to sign and date a diary page have little to do with controlling the risks of driving whilst fatigued.  That is, however, the unfortunate focus of the current Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) relating to fatigue management.  You can be compliant but still fatigued.”

“NatRoad wants to see a system where enforcement under the new HVNL should target the most significant threats and consequences associated with driving fatigued. Enforcement efforts and sanctions should align with these threats and consequences. They should also be proportional to the severity of the risk.”

Mr Clark said a first warning system for record-keeping should be implemented where any sanction for administrative breaches is imposed with failure to improve within a time limit set as the point at which any sanction for administrative breaches is imposed.

No restrictive diary requirements should be in play he said.

“The current system is dysfunctional, as shown by the case studies set out in the Issues Paper and added to in the NatRoad submission.

“Fatigue is a work health and safety issue and all drivers should be covered by a system that views fatigue management from a health and safety point of view.  Therefore, one of the main conclusions of the NatRoad submission is that reform based on the WA system (where fatigue is regulated via work health and safety law) underpinning a performance-based system should be introduced.  This is an outcome that would assist regulators and the industry.

“NatRoad looks forward to continuing to assist the NTC in this vital review,” Mr Clark said.

NatRoads submission to the NTC can be found here.

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NHVR issues bulletin on fire prevention

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As part of its review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), the National Transport Commission (NTC) is asking for public feedback on its third issues paper Easy access to suitable routes which it released this month.

It says the purpose of the paper is to:

  • summarise the current access arrangements under the HVNL, and in Western Australia and the Northern Territory;
  • analyse issues with the current access arrangements under the HVNL and outside the law; and
  • seek preliminary views on the ways we can improve heavy vehicle access.

NTC Chief Executive Officer Dr Gillian Miles says that access issues are complex and can cause problems for industry.

“Access is straightforward for many heavy vehicles, however operators of higher-productivity vehicles often need to apply for a permit, or operate under notice, which can result in delays and other costs. These costs affect all Australian businesses and households,” she said.

“We also need to manage our road infrastructure effectively. We need to find the best way to make sure we allow heavy vehicles access wherever it is safe and sensible and, in doing so, make access decisions quickly, consistently and transparently.”

Following consultation on the eight issues papers it will be releasing, the NTC said it will develop a consultation Regulation Impact Statement for comment before taking recommendations to ministers in November 2020.

The NTC will be accepting written submissions and online feedback on the Easy access to suitable routes issues paper until 16 August 2019. The paper can be found here.

Further information about the NTC’s open and forthcoming consultation phases can be found on the HVNL Review microsite.

It is still inviting feedback on its Effective fatigue management issues paper which it released in May.

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NHVR improves its online portal

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The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has announced improvements it has made to its online portal.

With the upgrade, customers can check their vehicle’s registration at the same time as applying for access permits.

The upgrade now connects the data between the portal’s existing NHVR Access module and Registration module.

“From Wednesday 12 June, the NHVR Portal will provide additional functionality, linking vehicle configuration details and registration status between the two modules,” NHVR Business Improvement and Innovation Program Director David Carlisle said.

“This will save time for customers and reduce the amount of data entry required by adding vehicle information from previously approved permits and display registration status.”

To take advantage of the new functionality, users with administration permissions will need to activate the Registration module for their customer account.

Once they are within the permit application process, two new buttons, ‘Refresh Registrations’ and ‘Import from Registrations’ now allow users to import any available vehicle data.

Mr Carlisle said the NHVR Portal currently processes more than 55,000 heavy vehicle access applications a year.

There are more improvements to come.

“Later this year the NHVR will begin rolling out additional services to the NHVR Portal, including the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme, Vehicle Standards and Performance Based Standards,” Mr Carlisle said.

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Austroads IGNORES expert panel findings

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The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has criticised Austroads’ research into heavy vehicle dimensions, saying that the government agency has ignored findings of an expert panel inquiry into national freight and supply chain priorities.

“Last year the expert panel inquiry into national freight and supply chain priorities recommended better supply chain integration, including common standards such as the width of refrigerated trailers, that should align with major international partners,” ATA Chair Geoff Crouch said.

“However, current research work underway by government research body Austroads is exploring moving to an overall permissible width of 2.55 metres, ignoring the international benchmark of 2.6 metres, especially for refrigerated truck trailers.

“The ATA welcomes the Austroads project’s stated commitment to international harmonisation and exploring greater width, but productivity benefits and supply chain integration do not happen because you write it in a project brief. You’ve actually got to get the policy settings right.

“An increase in allowable width to 2.6 metres would enable refrigerated trucks to utilise thicker insulated walls without loss of payload. In 38 degrees outside temperatures, these thicker walls would reduce heat gain by 36 per cent and deliver a fuel saving of 2,500 litres per typical refrigerated vehicle per year.

“Austroads reference the expert panel finding on the need for international harmonisation on the width of refrigerated truck trailers in their own project brief, but have then proceeded to rule it out of scope.

“They claimed the benefits of harmonising for refrigerated trailers to justify the project, and then refuse to look at what is actually needed to achieve those benefits.”

Mr Crouch believes that the project’s “limited scope” would limit the findings.

“The ability of this project to contribute to our understanding of the issues involved in harmonising vehicle dimensions with major international partners will at best be limited,” he said.

“This is a research project, not a policy decision, which makes it the best time to consider the issues and evidence for actually aligning with major international partners.

“The expert panel inquiry drew on 127 submissions and meetings with over 200 individuals, 28 peak bodies and 90 businesses.

“Austroads and its government members should actually take note of the outcomes of this consultative process, which was vastly more rigorous than the process undertaken for determining the scope of this limited research project.

“It would be disappointing if the commitment of governments to delivering a freight strategy, improving productivity and supply chain integration was to fall at the first hurdle of just researching what was actually recommended by the expert panel inquiry,” Mr Crouch said.

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New cameras in ACT will target heavy vehicle safety

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The ACT Government will be rolling out six new heavy vehicle monitoring cameras on both sides of the Federal Highway near the NSW border.

Minister for Roads Chris Steel says the cameras will help to ensure drivers of heavy vehicles comply with load limit regulations and avoid deadly driver fatigue.

“In conjunction with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), these cameras will integrate with others placed at key points across the nation to help ensure safety is maintained for all road users,” he said.

“The six new automatic numberplate-recognition cameras have been activated and will monitor the two lanes and emergency stopping lane in each direction on the Federal Highway. The cameras will take a photo of the front of each heavy vehicle that passes by with the date, time and numberplate recorded.”

$300,000 has been provided by the NHVR as part of the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Federal Government.

NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto said “The high-tech monitoring cameras have been rolled out in states across Australia over the past two years to encourage safer driving practices”.

“Data from the cameras in the ACT will feed into the National Compliance and Information System to collect real time monitoring and compliance data.

“They allow authorities to better detect risky behaviour and unsafe practice on our roads which helps narrow our focus for compliance and enforcement efforts,” he said.

The NHVR states that it is currently working with state and territory road transport authorities to identify additional camera sites which are located within the busiest freight routes to maximise heavy vehicle monitoring capability.

More information on the National Compliance Information System and the National Safety Camera Network can be found on the NHVR website: http://www.nhvr.gov.au/safety-accreditation-compliance/national-compliance-information-system.

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