If you consign, pack, load or receive goods as part of your business, you could be held legally liable for breaches of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) even though you have no direct role in driving or operating a heavy vehicle. In addition, corporate entities, directors, partners and managers are accountable for the actions of people under their control. This is the ‘chain of responsibility’ (COR).
The aim of COR is to make sure everyone in the supply chain shares equal responsibility for ensuring breaches of the HVNL do not occur. Under COR laws if you exercise (or have the capability of exercising) control or influence over any transport task, you are part of the supply chain and therefore have a responsibility to ensure the HVNL is complied with.
The law recognises that multiple parties may be responsible for offences committed by the drivers and operators of heavy vehicles. A person may be a party in the supply chain in more than one way. For example they may have duties as the employer, the operator and the consigner of goods.
Legal liability applies to all parties for their actions or inactions.
Who are the parties in the supply chain?
Any person with an influence and/or control in the transport chain is a ‘party’ and includes, but is not limited to:
- corporations, partnerships, unincorporated associations or other bodies corporate
- employers and company directors
- primary producers
- drivers (including a bus driver and an owner-driver)
- prime contractors of drivers
- the operator of a vehicle
- schedulers of goods or passengers for transport in or on a vehicle, and the scheduler of its driver
- consignors/consignees/receivers of the goods for transport
- loaders/unloaders of goods
- loading managers (the person who supervises loading/unloading, or manages the premises where this occurs).
When could COR apply?
Some examples include:
- heavy vehicle driver breaches of fatigue management requirements or speed limits
- heavy vehicle driver breaches of mass, dimension, or loading requirements
- where any instructions, actions or demands parties in the supply chain causes or contributes to an offence under the HVNL. That includes anything done, or not done (directly or indirectly) that has an impact on compliance, for example:
- schedulers whose business practices place unrealistic timeframes on drivers which cause them to exceed their work rest options
- operators who do not provide drivers with a sleep environment which allows for quality sleep if their work requires them to sleep away from home (approved sleeper cab, access to rest stops).
Duty holders must also make sure the terms of consignment or work/employment contracts will not result in, encourage, reward or provide an incentive for the driver or other party in the supply chain (e.g. a scheduler) to break the HVNL.
Contracts that require a driver to break the law are illegal.
In a prosecution, the courts may consider the actions of each party in the supply chain. This includes what measures those parties have in place to prevent breaches of the HVNL occuring. Each duty holder must take all reasonable steps to ensure a heavy vehicle driver can perform their duties without breaching the HVNL.