A Brisbane heavy machinery contractor has been fined $1.2 million over multiple safety breaches of the Heavy Vehicle National Law.
Ransome company NM & AA Foley Contracting Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in Holland Park Magistrates Court yesterday to 37 charges of contravening Section 26 of the Heavy Vehicle National Law Act 2012 (Qld).
Eight of the company’s truck drivers committed fatigue-related breaches over five weeks from 1 July to 6 August 2020. The trucks were hauling five to eight-tonne rocks from the Ravenswood gold mine to the Townsville port.
In total, the drivers committed 83 critical risk breaches, 15 severe risk breaches, 14 substantial risk breaches, and 81 minor risk breaches, as defined by Section 222 of the Act.
Magistrate Young said it was important to note that neither the drivers nor the executive officers of the company were being sentenced.
“The defendant’s duty was to ensure the safety of its transport operations by not encouraging the drivers to work excessive hours in breach of the fatigue-regulated hours (applicable to each driver) and failing to eliminate or minimise a public risk by taking reasonably practicable steps to ensure a driver did not exceed the maximum hours to be worked as a solo driver,” Magistrate Young said.
The breaches were discovered during an investigation into the toppling of a trailer and side-tipping mechanism on 6 August.
“It is perhaps fortunate given the large number of breaches which involve the drivers driving on public roads that the offences were discovered in this way rather than through something more tragic or fatal,” Magistrate Young said
He said the drivers’ behaviour was incentivised by the payment of a generous hourly rate.
“Even a cursory review of the hours worked by the drivers on a weekly basis shows significant concerns but instead of stepping in to end the drivers’ offending conduct, the defendant paid them substantially – although not entirely – in accordance with their claims, and in doing so have been held to have encouraged the drivers to continue to disregard their fatigue obligations,” he said.
“It is relevant to the culpability of the defendant that in paying the drivers in such a way the defendant needed to be proactive in avoiding circumstances of the drivers not complying with the fatigue regulations to increase their take-home pay. As the opportunity and temptation to the drivers was obvious, the company needed to be diligent in overseeing the obvious risk.”
Magistrate Young said it was disturbing for the Court to hear that an experienced transport operator had little understanding and regard to the obligations of their company to ensure driver compliance with the HVNL.
“The Court can only hope this is not a widespread attitude within the industry, but regardless, this speaks to the need for specific and general deterrence,” he said.
The Department of Transport and Main Roads had sought a fine of between $2.1 and $2.5 million, considering the defendant’s early plea, their co-operation with the investigation into the offences, and them having no prior or subsequent offences.
The defendant had submitted that a fine of up to $200,000 should apply, suggesting “an amount that could be paid rather than a symbolic amount that would see the company wound up”.
Magistrate Young stated the defendant had a high degree of culpability and the court was justified in imposing a fine that appeared beyond the present means of the company.
A conviction was also recorded.