Opinion: Tough enough to wear pink?

By: Ben Maguire

Time well spent in WA with the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls

Opinion: Tough enough to wear pink?
With the pink 700hp Volvo


If you travel through the Pilbara region of Western Australia wearing a pink shirt and driving a pink truck, you are bound to meet new people and get some interesting insights.

Under the professional guidance of Heather Jones, owner of Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, I recently drove a pink 700hp (522kW) Volvo, towing a triple road train, a couple of thousand kilometres, doing deliveries to the oil, mining and gas sector.

Heather specialises in training women to become proficient and professional heavy vehicle drivers and has delivered scores of excellent drivers to the industry through her programs.

It was wonderful to see first-hand the respect she has of people from all industries across the region, and in fact the state. Each time we stopped, or even across the UHF radio, people wanted to say hello as they knew her by reputation and wanted to share a story or pick her brains.

My time in the Pilbara was to promote the great work Heather and her team are doing by giving newcomers to industry (not all women) an invaluable amount of time with on the job training that is setting a benchmark of excellence.

With a couple of nights away from base camp, I also experienced life on the road without the luxury of decent (or frequent) rest areas. I am pleased to say the effective advocacy of the Western Roads Federation and Transafe WA resulted in WA transport minister Rita Saffioti making positive announcements to address these concerns while I was there.

Back to my ‘tough enough’ challenge… the National Transport Commission announced a review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) for 2019. This review and any amendments will impact the trucking industry in the eastern states for decades and we must think of all possible scenarios to get it right.

VGA partners with Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls. Read here

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and its members have already contributed to the review by proposing a complete rewrite of the draft terms of reference.

Once it gets underway, there will be consultative working groups, independent panels, submissions made and ministers will ultimately sign it off. The ATA even aims to hold a workshop to proactively suggest amendments or alternatives to the current and outdated laws. Our hope is this input will not only be valued by government, but that it will also form part of the changes.

One major piece of this legislation impacting the eastern states currently under the HVNL is fatigue management. Treating drivers like light switches by making them report on 15-minute increments of time, holding them to account for single minutes through punitive fines, and then not providing adequate rest areas to even pull over is an issue we all know must change.

One place I suggest they look to for alternative solutions is the Western Australia model. I know the sleep scientists and academics will offer a counter view, yet I wonder if they have seen the effects it has in real life?

The WA fatigue rules may offer more work and driving time, yet they also offer significantly more flexibility and opportunities for proper rest.

Fatigue related crash results reported by National Transport Insurance in their 2017 major accident report, show 82 per cent of major crash incidents attributed to fatigue occurred in our eastern states and the WA crash results improved from 30 per cent of the national fatigue incidents to 6.75 per cent in 2015.

Surely this shows there must be some learnings for other states here. 

The rapid pace of change in our society requires new ways of thinking, and new frameworks of time if we as a nation are to remain competitive. My challenge "are you tough enough?" is a tongue in cheek way of saying to those in power or in the departments: "Are you serious; are you able and are you willing to give this a try?" Please do something different.

The challenge I have for those involved in developing policy or legislation in the trucking industry is to get out and see the impacts of the decisions you make. By walking in the shoes of a driver and/or an operator, and it will give us all hope that you will involve this experience when drafting recommendations and new legislation that impacts real people on the road doing great work.

Are you tough enough?

Ben Maguire is CEO of the Australian Trucking Association

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