Why chain of reponsibility laws are not working

Australia’s transport industry is one of the most dangerous sectors in the country, with an alarming number of accidents and fatalities on the road each year.

An NHVR study from 2015 to 2019 reported that there were 2420 truck crashes reported over the period.

To address these risks and establish accountability, the chain of responsibility (CoR) laws were enacted in 2014 with the aim of preventing truck drivers from bearing the sole burden of safety breaches. However, despite these intentions, the CoR system has frequently proven to be a confusing and ineffective mess.

CoR: Good intentions for a dangerous industry

Australia’s transport industry is notorious for its high rate of accidents and fatalities. From truck crashes on the highways to unsafe loading practices at warehouses, there are numerous risks involved in the logistics and transportation sector.

The introduction of CoR aimed to address these issues by holding multiple parties in the supply chain accountable for safety, rather than pinning blame solely on the driver.

This includes everybody from the directors of transport companies to consignees. An admirable intent, yet good intentions do not guarantee success.

A confusing mess that nobody understands (or cares about)

One of the primary issues plaguing the CoR system is its complexity.

Many consignees and parties in the supply chain do not fully understand their obligations under CoR laws, which are extremely legalistic.

One workplace trainer and health and safety advisor recently told me:

“I’ve worked in the transport industry for 40-plus years. I’m yet to meet a PCBU, manager, supervisor, who understands CoR enough, to cite their own responsibilities.

This lack of clarity often results in a reactive rather than proactive approach to safety. Companies may only implement significant structural changes and safety measures after a safety incident has already occurred, leaving room for preventable accidents to occur.

The “it won’t happen to us” mindset prevails until disaster strikes. This reactive approach is detrimental not only to safety but also to the overall efficiency and reliability of the supply chain.

Due diligence is a pipe dream (especially for consignees)

Business owners are busy people – and, as a result, they underestimate the importance of due diligence when it comes to CoR compliance.

I have heard many times consignees having a mentality that they can simply outsource the responsibility to others. Businesspeople – especially the directors of companies that order freight – may assume that merely signing contracts absolves them of responsibility, neglecting the critical role of ongoing monitoring and risk assessment.

This oversight can have severe consequences, not just in terms of safety but also in terms of legal liabilities and reputation damage.

How companies can actively ensure compliance with CoR

To address the shortcomings of the CoR system, companies need to take proactive measures to ensure compliance and prioritise safety throughout their supply chain.

Here are three essential steps they can take:

1. Take an active effort in monitoring your supply chain

Companies should not rely solely on contracts and agreements to meet CoR obligations. Instead, they should proactively assess their supply chain, identify potential risks and implement measures to mitigate them.

This includes regular audits, monitoring driver behavior and ensuring that all parties involved understand their responsibilities.

2. Implement a genuine safety culture

Safety should be a core value within an organisation’s culture. It’s not enough to have safety policies on paper. They must be ingrained in the company’s DNA.

Encourage employees at all levels to prioritise safety, provide training, and create an environment where reporting safety concerns is not only welcomed but actively encouraged.

3. Engage a transport provider with a safety focus

When choosing transport providers, cost should not be the sole determining factor.

Instead, companies should prioritise safety-focused providers who have a track record of compliance and safety measures in place and programs to retain the safest drivers.

Cutting costs on transportation may save money in the short term, but it can lead to significant risks and liabilities in the long run.

How can you tell if a transport provider has a safety focus?

It usually involves an intense scrutinisation process – and making sure that the people transporting your freight have invested time and money into:

1. Ensuring their vehicles are in tip-top condition.
2. Ensuring their drivers are expertly trained.