Is it time for industry accreditation?

In July 2023, Industry Comment7 MinutesBy Russell WalshAugust 24, 2023

It’s been suggested for years that the industry needs an accreditation scheme. Despite attempts to get this off the ground, a full-blown scheme has not happened for several reasons.

Within the road transport industry, ‘accreditation’ is understood to be a formal process by which operators have robust systems and procedures in place that are of a sufficiently high standard to give regulators, such as NZTA and/or WorkSafe NZ, confidence that the operator maintains high levels of compliance with the general duty requirements of transport law, such as fit and proper person criteria and other applicable and associated regulation. Accreditation could be likened to a high-level qualification that is constantly under independent review.

For accreditation to be of value, it must have a purpose, such as extended work time hours. Accreditation schemes that are nice to have but have no identifiable and long-lasting benefit to any party are unlikely to find favour.

Essential to any scheme are regular internal compliance reviews and regular external audits undertaken by an experienced person. Because of this, accreditation is expensive to implement and maintain and requires long-term commitment.

A scheme must be endorsed by the regulator or the party which requires the operator to have such a scheme in place. Once endorsed, the scheme must apply to all parties who seek to benefit from the outcomes of the scheme. For example, if NZTA endorsed an accreditation scheme to allow extended work time hours, then all operators who seek to benefit from extended hours must become accredited to the same standard with no exemptions – allowing other methods of achieving the same outcomes will only undermine the integrity of accreditation. Because of this, some law amendments may be needed.

Accreditation is based upon compliance with clearly defined and written standards that are either specific to, or have direct links to, the scheme’s outcomes. A scheme requires regular internal reviews of compliance with the standards and recording of the findings of these reviews. Also, and at regular intervals, compliance with scheme standards is established. This includes an examination of internal reviews by an experienced auditor who is not associated with the day-to-day running of the transport business. This auditor must be approved by the regulator or the party who requires the accreditation as knowledgeable, suitable for the task and a party that the organisation has faith in to undertake the audit fairly and unbiasedly.

The Australian experience

The Australian transport industry has had access to accreditation schemes for a few years – they are included in the Australian Heavy Vehicle National Law. Currently, accreditation in Australia covers five aspects of transport operations. The scheme is delivered in a modular style:

  • Mass management – decreases the risk and improves public safety for vehicles that operate above the standard vehicle weight and/or dimensions.
  • Maintenance management – ensures heavy vehicles used on roads are kept in a condition that prevents or minimises the risk to safety while supporting operational efficiency.
  • Fatigue management – there are two levels: the basic module supports the safe management of fatigue for drivers; the advanced module is for drivers who need flexibility to the standard hours of work.
  • Performance-based standards – encourage innovation in the development of safe, flexible, vehicle standards in lieu of prescribed ones.
  • Intelligent access – allows heavy vehicle access to, or improved access to, the roading network using telemetrics to monitor vehicle location, speed, mass and other related parameters.

The Heavy Vehicle Industry Safety Survey produced by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in September 2022 sampled close to 6000 industry participants and reported 38% of these were in a heavy vehicle accreditation scheme.

Would accreditation work in New Zealand?

The short answer is: yes, it could. The scheme would require a champion to sell the principle(s) to regulators and industry and to drive it through all stages, but benefits to all would eventually accrue. A lot of work and cooperation from the regulators and the industry would be needed, and all parties would have to support the principles during development and in the future.

A key element of such a scheme would be the need for the entire industry to collaborate to make it work and for the regulators, including those organisations who may not have a pure regulatory function but would benefit from having high-level confidence that the transport operator they use always operates in a safe and compliant manner (the chain of responsibility).

There are currently several existing industry codes of practice that could form the basis of an accreditation scheme. Some operators with sound workplace systems and processes would find many of these would fit neatly into an accreditation programme with little rework, while others may find it necessary to start afresh.

What needs to happen now?

The industry must take the lead on this and put together an industry-supported discussion document for wider consideration by industry, regulators, and customers alike.

It is understood that two of the industry associations – National Road Carriers and the New Zealand Trucking Association – are in discussions to establish an industry scheme. How far this is advanced is not known.