Reproduced with permission from the 20 April 2020 edition of Safeguard Update.
News that the Police Commercial Vehicle Safety Team’s 28 warranted health and safety inspectors are doing very little HSW Act work comes as no surprise to former Independent Taskforce member Mike Cosman. Data released to Safeguard under the Official Information Act shows that in the last six months of 2019 the CVST issued only one on-road improvement notice, and did no HSW Act work between October and December, even though there was a multi-fatality bus crash near Rotorua in early September. Cosman, whose work with the Taskforce helped draft the framework on which the HSW Act was based, told Safeguard that the regulatory system was not operating in the way he and his colleagues had envisaged. “We recommended having a single system regulator with the ability to enter into service-level agreements to allow other specialist agencies to carry out functions on its behalf,” he says. “That didn’t actually happen. Under the current model those other agencies – Maritime NZ and the CAA – are effectively autonomous.” Although the relationship with the Police is different, Cosman says he doesn’t believe the MOU between the Police and WorkSafe is in fact a service level agreement. “The Police have been given an amount of money that they can spend, but as far as I can tell, the MOU doesn’t say what they are expected to do with it, and how they will be held accountable for spending it. “The fact that they did only a minimal amount of HSW Act work in 2019 certainly seems to indicate a relationship that doesn’t have any accountability.” Compounding the problem is the fact that the funding allocation is too little to allow anything more than a reactive response to work-related road issues, he says. “The number of warranted inspectors in the CVST is quite small and the funding insignificant in terms of the potential opportunity to really focus on some of the endemic issues, particularly in the heavy fleet, around fatigue, health, unreasonable delivery expectations, driving hours – things that potentially contribute to the death and injury rate.” It’s a complex issue, he says, and even a big increase in the CVST’s HSW Act activity would not make a significant difference until there is a whole system approach. “We need to see WorkSafe talking about on-road issues when they visit a warehouse, health and safety practitioners putting as much effort into fleet safety as they do into conventional H&S, and some renewed guidance material, because it is very hard to find reliable information.” Cosman says one of the main reasons the problem gets little attention is a lack of visibility. He believes ACC’s claims management system plays a major part in keeping the problems associated with commercial driving below the radar. “It’s a bit like occupational health – until we put a number on it to give an indication of scale, it doesn’t become a priority. “But because all road-related injuries are dealt with through ACC’s motor vehicle account, it is actually quite difficult to identify the nature of problem and attribute it to specific organisations or vehicle types.” He points to recent research from Otago University, which found around 30% of road fatalities over the past decade were in some way work-related, and to NZTA’s road strategy review, which highlighted fleet safety as a top-five priority, as indications that things are beginning to change. For fleet managers keen to do the right thing, he suggests GPS tracking for all vehicles could be a reasonably practicable step. “This gives a real time indication of people who are speeding, not taking breaks, or doing things like braking or accelerating excessively, which are warnings of driver inattention. “And if you collate the information at a fleet level you can really start to see what’s happening in your business.” He says that thanks to organisations like ShopCare the supply chain is beginning to take more responsibility for the delivery process, something he sees as a positive move. “Those who control the risk are managing it, and I think there is a powerful opportunity here for the industry to take a lead.” A Police spokesman told Safeguard that the CVST must have authorisation from WorkSafe before it can commence an investigation and must consult with the regulator if it wishes to take any HSW Act enforcement action. In the wake of the September 2019 bus crash joint workshops were set up with industry groups and other parties to resolve some of the issues that were identified.