The National Transport Commission conducted a review of their draft guideline on Assessing Fitness to Drive for Commercial and Private Vehicle Drivers (AFD).
Primarily, the publication provides guidelines for medical and health professionals and licensing/transport authorities. The guidelines does not provide any standards for Employers who are predominantly reliant on the Employee to self-report. The Employer is also reliant on the health professional and the licensing authority to be accurate and timely in the provision of assessments or accreditation.
The BIC submitted a response to the NTC on 11 June 2021 and provides:
- responses to questions raised in the Interim Report (May 2021)
- raises issues relating to chain of responsibility and flaws in the current system. An ongoing concern is for smaller to medium-sized operators, who are entirely reliant on a ‘functioning’ AFD system
- raises state/territory specific operational issues currently being experienced by members of the Bus Australia Network.
In our submission, the BIC provided responses that may have particular relevance to the current work being undertaken by the NTC in its review of Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). The mandate of the NTC in its review of HVNL is to “[develop] options to suitably address and manage heavy vehicle driver health and safety”.
Of the 3,000-plus bus and coach operations around Australia, the BIC estimates more than 60,000 workers undertake the task of driving a bus or coach to transport Australians safely, travelling over 1 billion kilometres per year or 21 billion passenger kilometres. Bus and coach transit is delivered by drivers with an average age of 56 years4 with the majority over 60 years of age. The age groups are predominantly male and as anecdotal evidence suggests, have much greater susceptibility to medical issues which may affect their driving either from a personal safety aspect or from the safety of their passengers.
The BIC is strongly supportive of ensuring a healthy fit-to-drive workforce that optimizes the safe operation of the vehicle and ensures the well-being of passengers. As part of this ‘quality assurance’ to the passenger, the BIC supports that the decision of a driver being fit-to-drive needs to be assessed, without bias, by well-informed medical practitioners. However, the ‘system’ (driver-medical practitioner-license authority) becomes somewhat fragmented and difficult to use for the Employer who has an ongoing concern and duty of care for their Employees.
In a regional town setting, the ‘system’ is often not practical to apply – particularly when a driver, for example, may require specialised assessments which is typically not readily available in regional towns. The costs, productivity liabilities and time deficits are significant impacts for operators in regional and rural towns. Smaller sized operations (usually regional settings) often do not have the resources of a dedicated Human Resources department. In order for the standards in the guideline to effectively work through the whole chain of responsibility, the Employer must have access to information from drivers, the health professionals and the licensing authorities.