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Aug 30

Overweight driver standowns at Fonterra a bigger industry issue – experts –


Last updated14:42, August 30 2017


Fonterra trucks have always been risky for heavier drivers, management has discovered.

Fonterra's decision to stand-down overweight truck drivers is a much wider issue in the trucking industry, and maybe other industries also, experts say.

Fonterra said on Tuesdaythat someof its drivers understoodto be two wouldbe offeredalternative duties because they were much heavier than the weight safety ratingson their driver's seats safely allowed.

The company also said that 50of its drivers weighed inbetween 140 kilograms and 150kg, the seat weightmaximums on its two main typesof tanker.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said that Fonterra'ssituation was not new, and that there had been court cases in New Zealand and Australia previously over the matter.

READ MORE:*Fonterra truck drivers stood down over weight concerns*Milk tanker and car in Hawera crash*Fonterra to tackle driver shortage

"I've been in the job for 10 years and throughout those10 years, we've had health seminars on it... And I put to you too that it's not just our industry, it's across the board.


Fonterra general manager of national transport and logistics Barry McColl said the company would try to get drivers to lose weight so they could get back on the roads.

"There's all manner of jobs which an employee's performance can be severely compromised with severe obesity."

Fonterra was not only right, "it'stheirresponsibility", to do something about the problem, Shirley said.

The dairy giantsaid it had been looking for some months at how to make its trucks safer, and talking with manufacturers about alternatives such as seatbelt extensions.

But there was arisk the belt would not perform to safety standards. The beltswerenot attached to the vehicle frame, as they werein cars, Fonterra general manager of national transport logistics Barry McColl said.

He said there was no intention to make anyoneredundant, and the companywastalkingwith the affected drivers about health programmes and temporarily doing other duties.

If they were unable to or chose not to lose weight, the company would offer themother work, possibly"within the depot or, indeed, upskilling them to work in manufacturing roles".

Angus McConnell, deputy secretary ofthe New ZealandDairy Workers Union, said it was a"very delicate situation" for all involved. Many of the overweight drivers would have been reliable and valued workers and it was "quite a dilemma" for some people.

At the same time, Fonterra had to comply with the law and while the union would be checking Fonterra'sinterpretation, itwasn't just a matter of fitness for the job.

"This is a little bit more complex around compliance and safety."

However, "nobody's employment is at risk at this point. There is a lot more to be worked through."

Mainfreight boss Don Braidsaid it was the first time he'd heard of a driverbeing stood down because of weight.

His company used owner-operators, so weight was not so much of an employmentissuebut the companystill took driver health seriously.

"We see them as part of the family, and we run healthy cafeterias in all our operations and we have a nutritionist in Auckland who works with drivers and any of our other people who might be overweight."

Itwas acknowledged thatdriversfacedhigher health risks, as it was a sedentary job with variable hours, shift work, and sometimespeople madepoor food choices.

NZ Post said italways ensured its drivers werefit enough to operate their routes safely.

"To help them do this we provide a range of resources and information, so they are well supported to make healthy lifestyle choices whilst they are either at work or at home."

Employment lawyer Max Whitehead said he first heard about the policyfrom a colleague of an affected truck driver who weighed 150kgand had worked for the company for seven years.

He suggestedFonterra was being discriminatory and the policy was "grossly unfair and in breach of New Zealand law".

But another employment lawyer, Susan Hornsby-Geluk, said it was arguablethat the courts would see it as discriminatory.

Obesity was not one of theprohibited grounds ofdiscrimination inthe Human Rights Act. And while an argument had been made overseas for obesity to be seen as adisability,that argument had not been establishedin New Zealand yet.

"And even if it was defined as a disability, you still have to be able to perform the functions of the position."

Fitness for work was not an uncommon employment issue, she said.

"It's not unique to the truck driving industry. There are certainly cases I've been involved in in other industries where a certain level of fitness has been a genuine requirement of the position, including where people are required to climb or move around a significant amount."


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Overweight driver standowns at Fonterra a bigger industry issue - experts -

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