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Work Safe judgement highlights dangers of DIY truck fleet maintenance

Published 16 December 2020

A business owner’s attempt to contain costs by performing maintenance on his fleet of trucks sadly proved fatal for one of his drivers, earning him and another employee who assisted with the repairs the maximum penalties under Work Safe laws. The case is a cautionary lesson on the importance of following legal requirements in relation to critical work being performed by properly qualified people.

A 21 year old driver died when the company’s water truck rolled while travelling down a long, steep, curved section of road. A forensic engineer engaged by Work Safe concluded the poor condition of the truck's brakes, which were improperly adjusted, was the primary cause of the crash.

The driver had received no formal or supervised training in the handling of water trucks, which have unique handling characteristics especially in difficult conditions such as a steep or curved descent.

Vehicles and servicing must meet regulatory standards

The truck had last undergone a major inspection and servicing by an external mechanic in December 2015. Subsequently the business owner and an employee had performed some maintenance and repair work for the company's fleet of trucks and had worked on the water tanker, but neither were qualified mechanics.

The specialist investigator said the truck failed to meet National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual standards and VicRoads roadworthy compliance requirements. It was found to have excessive brake imbalance and brake drum wear, and the brakes were improperly adjusted and worn beyond serviceable limits.

The court found the business owner guilty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of failing to provide and maintain safe plant. The company was fined $388,650 and the employee involved in the unqualified maintenance work on the truck was fined $77,730, the maximum penalties available.


How to manage fleet maintenance risks

Business owners have a duty of care for their employees and must comply with regulatory standards in order to operate legally. That includes only allowing qualified people to perform specialised tasks and ensuring the equipment and vehicles that employees use is regularly serviced by professionals.

To manage risks employers should

  • ensure appropriate safe systems of work are in place and that these are regularly monitored, reviewed and, if necessary, revised
  • ensure regular vehicle inspections, servicing and maintenance are undertaken by suitably competent persons in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations
  • ensure pre-operations checks are conducted daily on essential components such as brakes, steering, tyres (including pressure), indicators, oil leaks and suspension and have defects rectified by competent persons
  • not allow untrained, unlicensed or inexperienced people to operate vehicles
  • implement a system to ensure people are competent to conduct the work ‒ this should include instructions, information about the work, mentoring and assessment, toolbox training and refresher training even for experienced employees
  • establish appropriate rules and standards for safe road use (including speed limits for travel and manoeuvres) taking into account the load factor of a vehicle, movement of liquid and its effect on the stability of a vehicle, increased breaking distances due to the surge of liquid within a tank and changing environments and conditions
  • communicate all safety information to drivers and others (eg load information for those responsible for loading and driving vehicles) to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

How insurance supports business owners and fleet operators

“Many owner-operators see themselves as having the mechanical expertise – but not the qualifications – to meet maintenance and servicing requirements,” says Gallagher Newcastle Area Director Mark Bramley. “They may be looking to cut costs in the short term by attempting to do repairs themselves but as shown by this case it’s a solution that doesn’t work in the long term.

“The same applies with insurance protection for fleet operators. If things do go seriously wrong unexpectedly, the following types of insurance are crucial to covering the costs involved.”

  • Management liability – covers the costs of claims arising from executive decisions and governance
  • Public liability – also applies to legal costs arising from injury or damage to a third party
  • Workplace risk – workers’ compensation and proactive work health and safety risk management for employees
  • Commercial & Heavy Motor ‒ cover against damage or theft to motor vehicles

Want help or advice about protection for your business fleet?

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