Fonterra tanker drivers face weight limits

Seats in the two types of tanker Fonterra uses can safetly take a maximum of either 140 kilograms or 150kg, the company says.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Seats in the two types of tanker Fonterra uses can safetly take a maximum of either 140 kilograms or 150kg, the company says.

Fonterra drivers who weigh more than 150 kilograms face a mandatory stand-down.

One Fonterra worker called the weight restriction - which could affect as many as 50 drivers - a surprise attack.

However, the dairy cooperative says it has been working on the problem for months.

Driver seats in Fonterra tankers are at the heart of the issue - one tanker type seat can accommodate a maximum of 140kg and the other 150kg, the company said.

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Retrofitting stronger seats and fittings isn't an option and some drivers – understood to be two – had already been told they exceeded the limits and were to be offered alternative duties.

Word got out before the company had finalised plans with the union and, according to one driver, had workers around the country worried.

"It's almost like a surprise attack," said the driver, who wanted to remain anonymous.

"They haven't given those guys an opportunity or a heads-up so they can begin, if they choose to, to address their weight.

"You don't want a guy on the road running a 46-tonne with other s... on his mind. That's just not helping the situation."

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He said he was not affected by the policy, but said some other drivers have a naturally bigger build and would not be able to lose the weight.

He understands the safety issues with seat weight ratings, but said Fonterra had accepted the drivers through a stringent recruitment process. 

Furthermore, despite annual medicals for all drivers, he said being weighed isn't part of the medical.

Fonterra owed it to the drivers to find a stronger seat or at least help them lose weight before the policy is officially rolled out, he said.

Fonterra doesn't want to send anyone packing, general manager of national transport and logistics Barry McColl said.

"[The affected drivers] are good people who have done a good job ... We're not about to go, that's it, you're out of here."

The company, which also said no suspended driver's pay would be affected, recently found out retrofitting bigger seats in tankers wasn't possible because the cabs weren't designed for them.

"You end up ... landing at the point that, actually, what they provide is really what you've go to work with.

"This is absolutely not about an ulterior motive around [the drivers'] general health, it's absolutely first-line safety."

News spread when the team at Edendale in Southland saw a hazard, wanted to deal with it, and jumped in before Fonterra had the full plan laid out with the union, he said.

However, depot managers had been talking to those who could be affected and to drivers generally, McColl said, and Fonterra had been talking to the union for a few months.

The company has previously said it had 50 drivers who weighed between 140 kilograms and 150kg.

McColl said the weight limit on Scania trucks was 140kg, and on Volvo trucks was 150kg.

On Tuesday, Fonterra presented what it hoped would be its final version of the plan to the union, McColl said, and that included communication strategies and Fonterra-supported individual wellness programmes.

Anyone who can't get back into the driver's seat would be offered another role without the safety restrictions.

NZ Dairy Workers' Union assistant secretary Angus McConnell said the union would rather have sat down to work out any problems before changes were introduced.

However, he said discussions between the union and Fonterra are now making progress.

Rotorua-based employment lawyer Fraser Wood, of law firm Tompkins Wake, said 150kg is "not necessarily a huge weight".

"I don't think anyone's saying that a person of that weight can't fulfil their role as a truck driver," he said.

Fonterra should be on safe ground if the seat manufacturer had a clear weight restriction, because it could come back on the company in case of an accident.

But the company still has to talk to the employees concerned and should look at all ways to reduce the risk, he said.

New Zealand law does not protect workers from being discriminated against due to their size or body weight, Massey University senior lecturer and fat studies scholar Dr Cat Pausé said in an email from Europe.

"There are fat truck drivers in other parts of the world, like the United States, so there must be a solution that allows for an employee to continue working while adhering to the health and safety regulations that are in everyone's best interests."

 - Stuff

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