Dairy giant admits fatigue fault

By: Steve Skinner


Murray Goulburn pledges from now on its staff will knock on the door of any waiting truck drivers who fall asleep at its big Melbourne warehouse

Dairy giant admits fatigue fault
Waiting at Murray Goulburn in Melbourne. Drivers will now be told they will get a knock on the door if they fall asleep.

 

Chain of responsibility on fatigue has been around since 1997, but there is precious little to show for it when it comes to trucking customers. Dairy giant Murray Goulburn is a case in point.

Nearly two decades of the chain of responsibility has apparently had limited effect on Australia’s biggest dairy company. Until now, drivers waiting at the big distribution centre at Laverton North in Melbourne have had to stay alert, sometimes for hours on end, past their timeslots.

Drivers have to listen out to an FM radio frequency for their rego plate and dock number to be called.

There is no guaranteed knock on the door; no pager/buzzer system; and no simple phone call with advice provided on how to block out all undesired calls if the driver needs to sleep.

Until now drivers didn’t know that someone will knock on the door if they fall asleep and miss their call – unless they are lucky enough to have previously fallen asleep anyway.

"Our driver induction will be updated with information about this back-up process," pledges Murray Goulburn in an email to Owner//Driver, in response to our questions. "All MG site staff are trained to knock on the cab should a driver miss a radio call."

Long distance Driver X says he’s been in and out of Murray Goulburn’s William Angliss Drive DC dozens of times over the past few years, and was still visiting there at the time of writing. But until told by Owner//Driver, he has never known he would still hold his place if he climbed into the bunk.

The implications for driver and public safety back out on the highway are obvious, although in this driver’s case he’s lucky enough to be able to get off the road by midnight and delay his interstate deliveries.

Being on kilometre rate he is not paid for waiting at Murray Goulburn.

 

It’s not always cream carting

Murray Goulburn produces some of Australia’s premier dairy brands.

Trucks going in and out of the Laverton North DC are a mixture of long distance, regional and local; with the DC products including long life milk, milk powder and refrigerated cheese.

Owner//Driver spoke with several different drivers working for several different trucking companies.

The drivers have similar stories, saying over the years the waits have usually been acceptable, but can sometimes blow out.

One of them described the process as "dehumanising", because there are no real-time humans involved until the trucks are actually on the docks. So drivers can’t get an idea of how long they’ll be waiting once they arrive.

"It could be five minutes or an hour or five hours – you never know," says Driver X, adding he’s waited up to 7 hours. He estimates his average wait is two hours after the timeslot, and that is before the actual loading or unloading. (Drivers are allowed to arrive 55 minutes before the timeslot.)

However Murray-Goulburn insists that "average vehicle turnaround time is 90 minutes".

"Recently there have been some longer delays than usual due to the implementation of a new computer system. During this time, MG has worked with carriers to preload vehicles where possible to avoid long haul drivers being exposed to delays. These delays have now been resolved."

Murray Goulburn seems to deny that drivers don’t know how long they’ll be waiting: "All shipments are issued with specific timeslots and we have close dialogue with all carriers to provide status updates," the company says.

Driver X says his manager would definitely call him if informed of a delay, but says that has never happened.

There is nothing in the MG response about directly informing drivers of delays.

 

Not easy listening

Drivers say just having to listen to the Murray Goulburn radio "station" is fatiguing enough.

On one frequency – FM 92.5 – there is an automated voice on a constant loop, occasionally calling rego plates and dock numbers. Mostly it’s warnings and instructions about smoking, random drug tests, site evacuation, the 15km/h speed limit, staying in trucks, staying in designated pathways, safety vests and footwear etc.

Here’s an ironic one: "Drivers suffering the effects of fatigue are not permitted on MG sites."

Despite all this constant automated talk, when we listened in a car on the street before contacting MG, there was nothing on the radio about getting a knock on the door if you fall asleep.

On the other "station" – 89.5 – there is music interrupted by the automated voice. Depending on your musical tastes, the songs we heard could be a form of torture.

Meanwhile there are no driver facilities other than toilets.

For more on the COR on fatigue subscribe to the upcoming issues of Owner//Driver. Grab your copy here.

 

 

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