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THE LAST MILE - Notice is served

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The problem I see within our industry is that its people have become increasingly blasé about their obligations to provide a safe and compliant workplace.

‘Ignorantia juris non excusat’ – ignorance of the law excuses not – is a long established legal precedent. A story in the August edition of RTANZ News, ‘Transport operators to come under spotlight’, should serve as yet another warning that life in the future is not going to be easy. This story relates to obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and the areas WorkSafe has been focusing on for the past few years, namely those industries that were higher risk, such as agriculture and forestry. Transport and warehousing are now also to be targeted due to statistically high accident rates. Concerns cited include fatigue, fleet management issues, and the continuing high risk of accidents at loading sites. This focus by WorkSafe should not come as a surprise to any of us, although I can hear some operators complaining now that this is the last thing the industry needs on top of the renewed focus on compliance by the NZ Transport Agency. The problem I see within our industry is that its people have become increasingly blasé about their obligations to provide a safe and compliant workplace. Remember, vehicles are a workplace. The ‘I am all right, everybody else is at fault’ attitude does not cut it. In one way or another, we are all at fault.

WorkSafe or NZTA would be failing in their duties if they did not take action to stop what is fast becoming a significant industry issue. We cannot look at the roles of WorkSafe and NZTA in isolation; they are linked by requirements in two major pieces of legislation, the Land Transport Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act. Part 2 of the Land Transport Act sets out the primary responsibilities of those who hold a land transport document. A transport service licence is such a document, so is a permit such as an HPMV permit. Clause 79T of the Act sets out the chain of responsibilities for certain specific tasks in the industry. In addition, a number of Land Transport Rules, such as the Heavy Vehicle Rule, place distinct responsibilities on operators of vehicles.

If you are not sure, the definition of ‘operate a vehicle’ in the Land Transport Act is broad and says: ‘Operate, in relation to a vehicle, means to drive or use the vehicle on a road, or to cause or permit the vehicle to be on a road or to be driven on a road, whether or not the person is present with the vehicle; and operator has a corresponding meaning.’ Relate this back to the definition of a person conducting a business or undertaking (or PCBU in the Health and Safety at Work Act) and you will see they are all interconnected. Then, on top of these, look at the fit and proper person assessment criteria for a person to get and continue to hold a transport service licence, clause 30c of the Land Transport Act. Along with putting responsibilities on operators, many Land Transport Rules also list responsibilities for vehicle repairers and those who modify vehicles.

It is not acceptable to blame others for what the industry is going through at the moment, nor is it acceptable to blame others for the public perception of the industry. We are all in this together and only by working together will we turn things around. Private Fraser in Dad’s Army had a catchphrase – “We’re doomed”. This may well apply to our industry if we don’t get our collective act together and take our responsibilities seriously.