It has become a commonplace to read and hear about stories portraying road carnages on newspapers, television and the internet. These horrific stories include fatal trucking accidents in Australia. As a consequence of such events, a debate has emerged as to the appropriate manner to handle the transportation of goods. Take a look at the following incidents which testify to the urgency of this important issue.
- During the Christmas holidays last year in NSW, two children and an adult were killed in a horrendous accident involving a fuel tanker. The tragedy and loss of life brought extreme sadness and grief to the family of the victims. The truck was almost completely obliterated due to this accident.
- In April this year, a fuel tanker driver was rushed to the hospital with head injuries after a truck crashed into the back of his tanker. It took five long hours to transfer 43,000 litres of fuel before the road could be cleared.
What do these recent fatal accidents exemplified above tell? They highlight the need for risk assessments in freight decisions made by transporters of Dangerous Goods. Similar accidents have prompted the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) take necessary actions. The RTBU urges the state and territory governments to amend legislation by prohibiting the long-distance transportation of Dangerous Goods. Instead, they encourage that Dangerous Goods be transported by rail. The position being taken by the RTBU is strongly supported by the NRMA and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA).
Several factors contribute to the current trend of transporting Dangerous Goods by road rather than by rail. One of which is the under-investment in the rail network. Another is the perception that rail transport is impractical, for example, when the need to move fuel from rail lines to petrol stations via road arises. The passenger trains are also given priority within the network. Even as the legislation is in force to govern transportation of Dangerous Goods, there are grave concerns that increasing economic pressures faced by long-distance road transport drivers and operators will adversely affect compliance. Regardless of these pressures, transport drivers and operators who conduct business involving Dangerous Goods transport need to remember the responsibility and accountability associated with their work. If they fail to exercise due care and diligence in carrying out their work, they will be charged guilty of a serious offence.
Those involved in the handling and transportation of Dangerous Goods have legal obligations and responsibilities under various acts, regulations, codes, standards and rules. Not only that, such responsibility also extends to occupational health and safety (OHS) and environmental protection obligations.
The State’s and Territories’ Legislative Responsibility for Road and Rail Transport of Dangerous Goods
The Australian Dangerous Goods Code (ADG Code), governing both road and rail transport, defines Dangerous Goods including gases, flammable liquids and substances, oxidizing substances and organic peroxides, toxic and infectious substances, corrosive substances and miscellaneous environmentally hazardous material. The ADG Code is endorsed by the Australian Transport Council. These goods are classified according to their effects such as fire, pollution, corrosion, oxidation, spontaneous combustion or poisoning which may result in bodily injury, property damage or environmental impairment or damage or a combination the three.
In relation to this, in Queensland, a major governing law is the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 as in force April 2010 and the Transport Operations (Road Use Management– Dangerous Goods) Regulation 2008 as in force December 2009. The main purpose of the Transport Operations Regulation 2008 is to prescribe obligations of persons involved in the transport of Dangerous Goods by road. This includes reducing the risks involved in transports, giving effect to the ADG Code standards and promoting consistency between standards.
On the other hand, OHS laws apply to the transport of Dangerous Goods by requiring businesses to take all reasonable steps to ensure employees, contractors and their employees. Furthermore, they also want to make sure the public are not exposed to health and safety risks. Therefore, persons conducting such businesses are responsible to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that those Dangerous Goods are being transported in a way that does not expose others to health and safety risks. The practical steps referred include Risk Management involving the review of transport methods and assessment of safer methods and modes of transport as well as acting accordingly in them.
This brief article serves a good reminder to the persons involved in the transportation of Dangerous Goods as to the many yet very important obligations imposed by various regulatory bodies whether national, state and territory laws, regulations, codes and standards. In the process of assessing whether laws have been complied with, regulators will review and consider the choice of transportation method and mode. However, when rail transport may not be viable in some businesses, informed assessment and decision making must still be documented.
There are a couple of insurance related issues which should be carefully considered by those involved in Dangerous Goods transportation. They are shown below:
- Under the ADG Code, there are minimum insurance levels required for each unit of a vehicle carrying a placard load. Failure to secure the required cover entails corresponding penalties.
- Whenever you carry Dangerous Goods, always remember to disclose your insurance broker and insurer.
- Check your current motor vehicle insurance policy to ensure you are sufficiently insured for own damage as well as third party damage whilst carrying Dangerous Goods.
- If the company breaches the law, directors are the ones who are responsible for legal liability actions.
- In the event of a spill, the Environment Protection Authority (“EPA”) may prosecute for an offence and require clean up of the pollution or contamination.
- Despite the potential of catastrophic accidents involving Dangerous Goods, there are still a number of insurers that are prepared to underwrite such risks.
The information presented above touches some of the daily risks and obligations faced by those in the transport industry of Dangerous Goods by road. Granted, it is a volatile and expansive area of business with ever-changing regulations, so it will be wise for you to speak to your insurance broker and legal adviser regularly for further and up-to-date information and advice with regards to this concern and specific to your current circumstances and needs.