Human Resources responsibilities in implementing new Chain of Responsibility law

07 November 2018

Changes to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) took effect on 1 October 2018. These changes relate to new inclusions to Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws, and resemble the current risk-based approach that is applied in workplace health and safety law.

Prior to the changes, the CoR laws recognised that breaches of laws by drivers and operators of heavy vehicles were often caused by other parties in the supply chain, and that all parties who had control or influence over transport tasks are responsible for complying with the CoR laws.

The new CoR law have now introduced a primary duty on all parties involved in the heavy vehicle transport supply chain where heavy vehicles (over 4.5t) are concerned, meaning that they have a primary obligation, so far as reasonably practicable, to eliminate public risks to ensure transport-related activities are safe.

Now more than ever, to ensure compliance with the new CoR obligations, businesses must take a holistic and preventative approach to compliance. This includes ensuring that employees are aware of and understand their obligations and the requirement to comply with all relevant company policies and procedures to avoid heavy penalties being imposed on persons, companies and their executives.

Those with human resources’ responsibility for businesses operative on utilising heavy vehicles in the supply chain should therefore be considering each of the following:

Employment contracts

As a minimum, employment contracts (for both award and non-award covered employees) should contain a general ‘company policy compliance’ clause which states that the employee is required to comply with company policies and procedures as varied from time to time. It should also be clear that a failure to do so can result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

Employment contracts often also contain a workplace health and safety clause which goes further and includes, for example, an acknowledgement by the employee that s/he will act in a manner which promotes workplace health and safety for himself/herself, other employees, customers and members of the public.

From a best practice perspective, it is also prudent to expressly refer to CoR obligations. This could be incorporated into one of the above general clauses or inserted as a stand-alone clause but should include:

  • an acknowledgement that the employee is aware of and understands his/her obligations under CoR legislations and regulations
  • an undertaking that the employee will comply with those obligations and the company’s CoR policies and procedures at all times
  • a commitment that the employee will ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of any transport activities s/he is involved in during the course of the employment (eg driving, loading, unloading, packing, scheduling)
  • a requirement to immediately report any accidents, near misses, incidents or hazards

Any amendments should be incorporated into employment contracts for new employees. For existing employees, consider whether it is appropriate to roll out new contracts (taking into account your workforce size, timing of remuneration increases, whether contracts have been updated recently etc).

Alternatively, existing employees should be required to sign a stand-alone written acknowledgement in substantially the same terms (preferably issued with the company’s CoR policy and/or when they attend CoR training).

Employee training

Working with relevant people within the business (or using external resources if necessary), HR managers should ensure that comprehensive training is rolled out to all employees who are involved in transport activities covered by the HVNL.

To be most effective, the training should be tailored to the role/work area of the employee and cover the company’s CoR policies and procedures.

Executives, managers and anyone else who is “concerned or takes part in the management of the corporation” (even if not formally employed or remunerated as managers) should also receive specific training on their personal responsibilities and liability under the new HVNL.

After the initial training, refresher and new employee training programs should also be developed.

Record keeping

As with other compliance areas (eg safety, discrimination, harassment and bullying), making and retaining records of employees having received a copy of (or access to) the company’s CoR policies and procedures and attended relevant training is essential so you can later demonstrate you have taken these steps (including if you are considering disciplinary action against an employee for failure to comply with your CoR policies). The same applies for signed copies of employment contracts and copies of company policies and training material (as at the relevant date).

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