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Keep your drivers safe and your customers happy in bad weather

For the first time in five years, the Bureau of Meteorology has declared a ‘negative Indian Ocean dipole’. That means we’re in for a warm spring with lots of rain – and the risk of extreme weather events, chiefly cyclones and floods. 

We spoke with Martin Corry, NTI’s Transport Risk Engineer, about the weather’s likely impacts. 

His message for transport operators is simple: “Prior planning prevents poor performance,” he says. “It’s all about planning – you don’t need to lose gear in a flood.”

“For us, it’s not so much about risks to equipment. It’s about the risk to business continuity and protecting your operations.”

Safety first

When heavy weather hits, Martin says that “the main thing is knowing that your staff are safe. So you might have to make arrangements if they’re unable to get home or can’t work because they’ve been flooded in.”

The key to effective planning, he says, is to include your team in the conversation.

“You’ve got to ask … ‘all right, we’ve got to get out to the mine, what’s the best way?’.

“Because you need to know. Are there places to pull up? Are there rest stops? If you can’t get there on a single tank of fuel, is there a spot where you can refuel along the way? 

Martin also has some more specific tips: 

Road transport

  • Route changes: Be prepared for new rest stops and refuelling locations when routes and loading locations change.
  • Fatigue pressure: Detours and longer travel times will change your fatigue calculations; plan for any changes. 
  • Efficiency: Detours and route changes will change the delivery cost, so make sure contracts have allowances for different loading locations and extra travel distances.
  • Demand increase: Disruption to rail links will increase road transport requirements, so be ready to ‘flex’ if required. 

Transport depots

  • Roster: Update your Christmas park-up plan and staff roster so you can relocate equipment in the event of severe weather.
  • Site maintenance:  Ensure no loose parts or equipment are lying around and pump out wash bay sumps to prevent overflow and oily water runoff.
  • Site security: If the power goes off, you’ll have no cameras, alarms or security gates – have backup plans in place to keep your site(s) safe. 

Flooding and weather events

  • Identify alternate routes and highlight fuel stops and rest stops.
  • Communicate with your customers and move to alternate routes and delivery time frames.
  • Estimate cost changes of alternate routes and agree with the customer.
  • Nominate staff that may need assistance in accessing depots or trucks, or getting home, including temporary accommodation if required.
  • Establish remote working capabilities in case your office or depot is not operational.

Get on the blower

Martin emphasises that regular communication with your stakeholders is critical. Even if conditions at the depot are mild, there’s no guarantee they’ll be the same elsewhere. 

“If you’re not in good communication with your client and you call them after your truck has left and they say ‘Look mate, there’s no use, you’re not going to get in’, then you’ve got a guy stranded in a truck on the side of the road.” 

That’s where good communication can keep your trucks moving so you can meet your commitments and make sure your customers still get good service.

Of course, sometimes you have to take your trucks off the road. But even in those situations – especially in those situations – communication is critical.

“There can come a stage where it’s too dangerous to drive,” Martin says. “You might need to tell everyone, ‘look, we’re going to ground everything for 12 hours until the storm passes. Then we’ll reassess it a 5:00 am tomorrow.’

“From my experience, communication with all stakeholders is the key. It’s just planning, and the number-one priority is your team’s safety.”

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