Nortrans: Investing in safety

In the Dangerous Goods transport sector, the shipment of liquefied gases, acids, molten sulphur, bitumen and other hazardous materials is taken incredibly seriously, as the risk potential is the highest in the transport industry.

Townsville-based Nortrans is one company that has been trusted with the critical job of ensuring the safe transport of the dangerous substances since 1969, specifically working with liquid and compressed gas, as well as bulk gas for BOC.

“Our operations cover Townsville, NT and SA, with an occasional trip into Sydney. Across our destinations, dangerous goods make up around 60 per cent of the work we do, with probably 30 per cent container handling and 10 per cent general freight,” explains Kent Battle.

Kent is currently in the transition phase of stepping up from his position as Workshop Manager, taking over the role of Operations Manager from his father Rodney Battle. With his brother Seeton replacing Kent in the workshop, the third generation of Battles is officially taking the helm of the business, which has been in family hands since Kent’s grandparents started it in 1945.

Kent explains that being a family business has helped Nortrans clearly define its priorities for safe practices and equipment. “We have a huge focus on safety – looking after our people dictates almost every business decision we make,” Kent says. “We invest a lot of money and time into making our drivers as safe as possible, by only using the best equipment on the market, or innovating our own solutions if there isn’t anything that meets our standards.”

The innovative company, which was the very first company in Australia with B-doubles and is the proud holder of B-double permit number 0001, was also the first in the country with a road train rated DAF direct from the factory. On top of that, Kent says Nortrans was also the first in Australia to have Euro V Kenworth test trucks. “We tested the Kenworth Euro V prime movers before the regulations came through because we really like to be ahead with technology,” Kent says – adding that the same preference for technology translates to the ancillary appliances it includes in its trucks.

“Driver comfort is incredibly important because if drivers don’t get good rest, risk goes through the roof. For us, that doesn’t start and end with the driver cab. For example, one of our drivers is based in Cairns, where the heat and humidity can be quite intense, so we installed an air conditioner for him in the bedroom at his house. Now, he can get a proper sleep between shifts,” Kent says. “We want to keep our drivers safe. We have a very good safety record and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Apart from driver comfort, the Nortrans safety philosophy means making sure all its vehicles are in a safe state to drive before they leave the yard. While pre-start checks are common amongst most transport companies, Kent says that the paper and pen option just doesn’t cut it for the innovative business.

So, what Kent did was invest $70,000 into developing an electronic pre-start checklist for its drivers. “We spent a lot of money and found a way to fix the problem at hand,” he says. “Our drivers will be able to carry around tablets that they use to check off the pre-start requirements, and if anything is missed, it sends me an email instantly. The same thing happens if the truck moves without the checklist being completed.”

Currently being rolled out, the electronic pre-start checklist joins the company’s other safety-focussed innovations, which also include a one-of-a-kind trailer that Nortrans developed when there was nothing on the market that would suffice. “One of our clients, BOC, has special pallets for its gas cylinders that have gates to hold them steady,” Kent details. “Previously, the driver needed to climb up and down on the trailer to put the gates in place, which we thought was unnecessarily dangerous. So we developed our own trailer, which allows the driver to just swing the gates closed instead of climbing on top of the trailer. It’s the only one of its kind in the world.”

Innovating new, safe equipment for its drivers comes naturally for the family business, which Kent says is part of the reason why the company has a ‘really low’ driver turnover. “We’ve got close to 60 people on the payroll at the moment, and a lot of guys have been with us for decades – one of the guys in the workshop has been with us for 27 years. They become part of the family.”

And although the company has spent a significant amount of money developing safety initiatives and world-first trailers for the critical dangerous good transport sector, Kent emphasises that his staff, family and the general public are well worth the investment.

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