Being held accountable
Large penalties will soon apply to all in the supply chain who place truck drivers’ lives at risk
THE LATEST WORKPLACE INJURY and fatality statistics released by Safe Work Australia show that the road transport industry has the highest fatality rate of workers, at around 15 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to other industries. Although there has been a significant fall in the number of worker fatalities in the road transport industry since 2007, there has been no further reduction over the last three years. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics reports that 185 people died in crashes involving heavy vehicles during 2017. These statistics are unacceptable. Heavy vehicle operators, the supply chain, governments and all road users must work together to reach a target of zero deaths. The re-introduction of so called ‘safe rates’ is not the answer.
From October 1 this year, all members of the supply chain will face significant penalties if their actions or inactions put truck drivers at risk, completely negating arguments for reintroducing minimum freight rates in Australia. This was the message NatRoad delivered to the recent Senate Committee hearing on the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia.
RATES NOT THE ISSUE
The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) submission to this inquiry stated that the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal – which established minimum freight rates – has led to a gap in regulation of the road transport sector, particularly in terms of holding clients at the top of the transport supply chains accountable for the pressure they put on the industry. This claim holds no merit in light of the changes to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), which include new offences with increased penalties for supply chain parties that directly or indirectly cause or encourage a driver to exceed a speed limit, breach fatigue rules, or contravene any other aspect of the HVNL.
When giving evidence before the Committee, NatRoad’s industry policy advisor Julia Collins said setting minimum payment rates would not reduce the fatality rate, given that truck drivers are rarely at fault in heavy vehicle crashes.
“We want to see those who are pressuring drivers and creating unsafe behaviour face the full force of the new laws. At present, because of the relative simplicity of imposing fines at the roadside, drivers bear a disproportionate burden of sanctions for regulatory breaches,” she said. “The new Chain of Responsibility requirements need time to be properly implemented and enforced and then evaluated for their effectiveness before any other regulation is considered.”
The experiences of NatRoad members indicate that a significant proportion of enforcement is focused on minor technical issues that are not critical to ensuring safety. In addition, heavy vehicle incident investigations are managed in very disparate ways across numerous government agencies, including police. This creates a significant gap in the data on causal factors related to serious injury and fatal crashes.
To date, the main focus of truck crash investigations and data collection has been on the immediate causes relating to unsafe driver behaviours such as inappropriate speed, fatigue and drug use. This is a flawed approach because truck crashes can be an outcome of multiple, interacting factors within the broader transport and supply chain system.
NatRoad has called for a dedicated, independent authority such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to be responsible for investigating all serious truck accidents.
The findings and recommendations should be reported publicly so that actions by industry and the government to reduce the road toll are not misdirected.
As a general principle, designing our roads and vehicles to be safer is more effective than relying on driver behaviour.
Priority should be given to how we can ‘design out’ inherent hazards or minimise human error using technology and engineering solutions.
“Drivers bear a disproportionate burden of sanctions for regulatory breaches.”
WARREN CLARK, NatRoad’s chief executive officer, has more than 20 years’ experience leading and developing business for emerging companies. Warren has held the position of CEO at various companies and is a certified chartered accountant.
BELOW: NatRoad CEO Warren Clark met with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on July 24 to discuss the upcoming amendments to the HVNL