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How to start a transport business

Setting up a trucking or transport business can seem pretty simple, but there are a few wrinkles you need to know about and some pitfalls you want to avoid. It’s important to get all your licenses and certifications in place before you begin operating. If you don’t, you may end up in trouble with clients, employees or even the law.

Licenses and laws

“Beyond heavy vehicle driver licenses and any state-based obligations there isn’t an overarching requirement to be licensed as a transport business,” says Adam Gibson, Transport and Logistics Risk Engineer at NTI. “That is, there are no mandatory operator accreditations’.

But that doesn’t mean you should dive right in – the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) creates legal obligations for all operators. These apply across Australia except for WA and the NT, both of which have state-based laws.

In WA’s case, compliance with WA Heavy Vehicle Accreditation (WAHVA) requirements is mandatory for all restricted access vehicles (essentially everything bigger than a prime mover and trailer combination).

The HVNL uses two regulatory models: primary duties, which set out objectives around safety and risk management; and prescriptive regulations, which are specific requirements governing things like mass, dimension and loading (MDL), fatigue management and vehicle standards.

Under the HVNL, heavy vehicles are those weighing 4.5T GVM or more and designed for road use. A second category is fatigue-regulated vehicles weighing 12T GVM or more, or buses weighing 4.5 GVM or more and designed to carry 12 or more passengers. Fatigue-regulated vehicle drivers must take regular mandated rest breaks and when they’re operating more than 100km from their base, they must record them in a work diary (also known as a ‘log book’).

There are also several special cases where special licenses are needed, for example, when carrying explosives or other dangerous goods. Industry associations and codes of practice are an excellent source of information about such obligations.

Critically, the HVNL includes a primary duty in respect of the chain of responsibility (CoR) such that everyone in the chain has a legal obligation to eliminate or minimise risk wherever they have influence or control of a transport activity.

Industry bodies and codes

Industry bodies, such as the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and the National Road Transport Association (NATROAD), are a terrific source of helpful information if you’re setting up a transport business.

“Joining gives access to a huge knowledge base,” says Adam. “They help people build their businesses, and they care about the industry. They’re a great source of insight and assistance.”

An example is the ATA’s TruckSafe initiative. TruckSafe is a business and safety management system that allows operators to invest in safety and hold themselves to an even higher standard than the HVNL.

“It’s tougher than HVNL, and you can’t pick modules – you have to take on the lot. The other benefit is that it brings in an independent set of eyes to look at your business.”

External auditors certify compliance, which becomes a competitive advantage when competing for jobs and may support a defence with respect to the HVNL’s CoR requirements.

Safety and compliance

Transport, postal and warehousing together are Australia’s most dangerous industry sector, according to Safe Work Australia. They accounted for more than 25 per cent of worker fatalities in 2016 – and the trend looks to have continued through to 2019.

New entrants to the industry need to be aware of the risks and their legal and financial implications. Safety first isn’t just a nice-sounding phrase; in this industry, it can save lives, save businesses from going under and prevent serious injuries and help you avoid long-term legal battles..

Compliance, therefore, is business-critical. If you want to get your transport operation started on the right foot then you should comply with the law, join your industry association and do everything you can to protect your workers and customers. It’s good business and good sense.