Industry Insights

Geoff Casey, Executive Director (Productivity and Safety), NHVR

At the start of 2015, Geoff Casey was announced as part of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR’s) new leadership team. CoR Adviser talked to Geoff about his past experience, and the opportunities and challenges ahead for the industry.

Q With your background in civil aviation safety, what were the practices that were followed in that industry that achieved the best safety outcomes?

A The aviation industry has for a long time been putting a lot of effort into developing strong safety cultures across not only the industry itself, but the regulator and all the other elements that interact with the industry. That forms the basis of putting the onus of safety back onto the operators themselves.

There’s a limit to what a regulator can do: they can determine a supportive regulatory framework and put in place various parameters around that, but ultimately I think that the onus belongs with the operator, with the pilots, and with maintenance organisations.

I think the other lesson that we’ve learnt out of that is that a more productive and profitable industry is a safer industry. Profitable operators tend to put more resources into safety. As a regulator, our role is to put in a framework that enables them to operate efficiently and profitably as well as safely.

Q How applicable do you think these lessons will be to the heavy vehicle sector?

A The heavy vehicle industry is operating under a significantly more complex regulatory framework because of the way it’s been structured with all the jurisdictions, so the move towards a single regulator is definitely a good step. It will just take us a little while to get there.

However, the premise remains the same: a regulator cannot be everywhere, in every cockpit or truck cabin, so ultimately the responsibility remains with the industry, particularly when you’ve got such a geographically diverse industry.

Q The heavy vehicle sector has some very large operators, but also some very small ‘mum and dad’ operators. How do you create capacity for the smaller operators to aspire to, and implement, safe business systems so that all operators work from the same basis when it comes to safety practices?

A I spent a number of years with the civil aviation regulator before Qantas, and with the air traffic control provider before that. We were faced with a similar situation: you have the ‘mum and dad’ or single chief pilot operations, and Qantas and Virgin at the other end, with a whole range of sophistication and complexity in between.

The way in which a complex organisation manages its safety may be vastly different to the way in which a small organisation manages safety. But both can be effective. From a regulatory point of view, our responsibility is to try and get the appropriate regulatory framework and oversight so both ends of the market can carry on a productive business.

A regulator can intervene both directly and indirectly. Direct intervention happens through audits and compliance checks, but we should also provide safety educational information and guidance so smaller operators develop their capability. Operators should aim to develop systems tailored to the level of sophistication and complexity of their organisation. So the regulator can help both ends of the market, but in different ways.

Q Do you believe industry prepared safety codes are important? What role should they play in a relatively highly regulated industry such as the heavy vehicle industry?

A Various sectors of the aviation industry have grown their own safety codes. In fact, in some areas, we allowed them to regulate their own sector. Codes of practice are great, as long as they’re over and above the regulatory requirements – that is, looking for a higher standard. If you have a code of practice that’s effective, then we can reduce the regulatory burden that we impose on the industry, which is good for both the regulator and the industry.

Operators can also learn best practice from each other. I saw this exchange of information at the recent South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) conference. Peer pressure is a good thing. Everyone strives to reach a higher level.

Q Given the current structure of the HVNR, what place do you see for the operation of safety management systems? Do you think they should be made mandatory for all operators, particularly with regards to technology?

A From a safety management system point of view, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in aviation or the heavy vehicle sector, the whole point is that nothing is specifically mandatory as long as you manage your safety appropriately.

Having said that, I’m a supporter of technology. Technology helps the operator and is a good source of data to help drive strategy for both the regulator and the industry.

I think in terms of safety management systems overall, we would encourage voluntary adoption of them and we’re already seeing that. I’ve visited a number of operators now and they have quite sophisticated and complex safety management systems in place.

With safety accreditation already in place for fatigue, and mass and maintenance management, industry is well on the way to a comprehensive safety management framework.