All operators who are granted an O-licence by a Traffic Commissioner (TC) have to sign a list of undertakings governing the manner in which they will run their trucks.
They must, for example, promise not to use an unauthorised operating centre or to keep more trucks than are specified on their licence at an authorised centre.
These undertakings are not promises that they can put in a dusty filing cabinet in a far corner of the office and blithely ignore. Instead, they must govern every area of the firm's activities.
If they do not, then that may lead to the TC taking disciplinary action against the operator concerned; with O-licence revocation a distinct possibility.
Read more about truck O-Licencing here
Guide to Truck Drivers Hours
Obeying the Drivers Hours rules is vitally important, and the TC and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency expect proper records to be kept.
The advent of digital tachographs makes this easier, but driver cards must nonetheless be downloaded at least once every 28 days and vehicle units downloaded at least once every 56 days.
Digital or analogue, the tachograph data must be analysed, ideally by a third party tachograph analysis bureau, with infringements drawn to the driver's attention.
Such infringements may of course not be entirely the driver's fault. It may be the case for example that the work schedule set out by his or her employer means that insufficient daily or weekly rest has been taken.
Such a situation should of course not arise. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that the shift patterns they devise do not breach the Drivers Hours rules or the Working Time Directive; the latter stipulates that an average 48 hours of working time a week must not be exceeded.
Aside from the tachograph card, another piece of plastic that is going to become increasingly important is the Driver Qualification Card; proof that the individual concerned holds a Certificate of Professional Competence and has completed the necessary training.
Although it will not be necessary for all truck drivers to hold a CPC until September 2014, TCs have for sometime being asking operators about what they are doing to ensure compliance. Replying that it is the driver's responsibility and nothing to do with me is not a response that goes down well and could result in O-licence curtailment and a loss of repute for the transport manager concerned.
Transport companies have an obligation to ensure that their trucks are fit to be on the public highway.
At its most basic this means that daily walk-around checks must be completed before a vehicle leaves the depot and any faults recorded. If a fault is deemed to be so serious that the truck is un-roadworthy then it must not be allowed to depart until the defect is rectified.
Trucks must be properly maintained and undergo regular preventative maintenance inspections.
In the past hauliers were usually obliged to complete such inspections once every six weeks, but in its latest guidelines (Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness 2014) the DVSA has indicated that it is willing to be a little more flexible. For example, a truck that is usually lightly-laden and does no more than 50,000 miles annually may only require inspection once every eight weeks, although anything more than 12-years-old will still be subject to a six-week regime.
Preventative Maintenance is King
Preventative maintenance should of course make MoT test failures less likely, and never forget that the DVSA keeps a watchful eye on failure rates. Regular failures are likely to affect your Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS) - the scoring system that helps enforcement officers decide which trucks they should stop and inspect because they are likely to be non-compliant.
A key reason for failure is the performance of the vehicle's brakes. As a consequence the DVSA is now advising operators to test them using a calibrated roller brake tester every time an inspection is carried out; and if they do not, then they should at the very least test them three times a year.
Prevent Truck Overloading
All the attention paid to Drivers Hours compliance and maintenance will count for little if a truck is caught overloaded.
Everybody concerned in loading a vehicle should be absolutely certain they know how much weight the truck is permitted to carry and how best the weight should be distributed in order to avoid either a gross overload or the overloading of individual axles; or both.
If a truck is on multi-drop work and is being unloaded from the rear, then the driver should be aware of the diminishing load problem. Take weight off the rear and you may end up overloading the front axle, which means that the remaining load may have to be moved backwards half-way through the delivery round.
Onboard weighing is a solution
Onboard weighing equipment will tell you if there is a gross overload or not (see picture above). Determining the extent to which individual axles are overloaded can be more problematic and axle weigh pads or a weighbridge should be used if there is any doubt.
Truck Load Security
Driving around with an insecure load is an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the cargo does not have to fall off for an offence to be committed. Travelling down the motorway with the curtains on your trailer bulging out because a couple of pallets have shifted could be enough to trigger a prosecution.
It is therefore vital - though not always easy - to ensure that cargo is secured properly.
The Road Haulage Association has recently issued DVSA-approved guidance notes covering load retention which includes the use of an internal curtain-and-strap arrangement to keep palletised loads in place on the upper deck of double-deck trailers.
Watch for Stowaways
Keeping stowaways out is as important as keeping the load on the vehicle if you are on Continental work and returning to the UK. A £2,000-per-stoway fine is on the cards if an operator cannot demonstrate that all the correct procedures were followed to keep unwanted passengers out and the Home Office's Border Force is enforcing the rules strictly.
Correct procedures include having an effective system in place to prevent the carriage of clandestines and taking steps to ensure that it is operated properly. Making use of any detection equipment that is available pre-embarkation will help your case; but it does not provide guaranteed protection against penalties.