Truck driv­ing is the undis­puted cham­pion of a ti­tle no oc­cu­pa­tion wants to win: Aus­tralia’s most deadly job – and a change is needed. Ricky French re­ports

Owner Driver - - Contents #309 -

A spe­cial fea­ture on what the in­dus­try needs to achieve safer work­ing con­di­tions

STA­TIS­TICS SHOW about 50 truck driv­ers die ev­ery year in Aus­tralia. Be­tween the years 2003 and 2015 there were 535 fa­tal­i­ties among work­ers in the road freight trans­port in­dus­try, rep­re­sent­ing about 15 per cent of all work­place fa­tal­i­ties. There were 8330 work­ers com­pen­sa­tion claims for se­ri­ous in­juries re­quir­ing more than a week off work lodged in the trans­port, postal, and ware­hous­ing in­dus­try. The news got even worse in May, when Monash Univer­sity re­leased the find­ings of a 12-year study of health and safety in the Aus­tralian truck­ing in­dus­try. Ti­tled Driv­ing Health: Work re­lated in­jury and disease in Aus­tralian truck driv­ers, it found that truck driv­ers were 13 times more likely to die at work than any other pro­fes­sion, and that one mil­lion weeks of work were lost be­cause of in­jury. Slips and trips, falls, noise, and phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal stress con­trib­uted to the ma­jor­ity of com­pen­sa­tion claims.

Long-haul truck driv­ers were shown to be most ex­posed to risk fac­tors such as “long work­ing hours, seden­tary roles, poor ac­cess to nu­tri­tious food, so­cial iso­la­tion, time pres­sure, low lev­els of job con­trol, and fa­tigue.”

With de­mand for on-road freight trans­port ex­pected to dou­ble be­tween 2010 and 2030, the fo­cus on safety is only go­ing to in­ten­sify.

Truck driv­ing is the most com­mon job for males in Aus­tralia, em­ploy­ing one in ev­ery 33 men of work­ing age – about 200,000 peo­ple all up – but there is a wors­en­ing short­age of new driv­ers en­ter­ing the in­dus­try, some­thing clearly not helped by the damn­ing health and safety sta­tis­tics. Nearly half the work­force is aged be­tween 45 and 64. Par­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing is the high sui­cide rate of truck driv­ers.

If ever there was a call to ac­tion it is now, and it’s im­per­a­tive the call is heard loud and clear.

Risk fac­tors and COR

An av­er­age of 14 se­ri­ous in­jury com­pen­sa­tion claims are made ev­ery day. The Aus­tralian Work Health and Safety Strat­egy 2012-2022 has iden­ti­fied road freight trans­port as a pri­or­ity. It aims to re­duce the in­ci­dence of se­ri­ous in­jury by 30 per cent na­tion­wide by 2030.

Road freight trans­port risk fac­tors iden­ti­fied by Safe Work Aus­tralia are time pres­sures, shift work, fa­tigue and phys­i­cal fit­ness, poor ve­hi­cle de­sign, man­ual han­dling of heavy weights, work­ing at height, and gases and fume ex­po­sure. It notes that while there has been a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in the num­ber and rate of in­juries and fa­tal­i­ties over the past decade, it re­mains a “high risk in­dus­try”.

Al­though the Monash Univer­sity study fo­cuses on data alone, not at­tribut­ing blame or cau­sa­tion, the Trans­port Work­ers Union (TWU) has been quick to link the find­ings to a fail­ure of gov­ern­ment to reg­u­late around the prac­tice of award­ing of trans­port con­tracts.

TWU na­tional sec­re­tary Michael Kaine says small op­er­a­tors are be­ing squeezed to break­ing point, which leads to

dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for the safety of em­ploy­ees. “What needs to be done to lift that pres­sure on small op­er­a­tors is to en­sure that each of the op­er­a­tors above them pays down the sup­ply chain suf­fi­cient money in their con­tracts to en­sure small op­er­a­tors are vi­able,” he says.

“You need ten­der­ing pro­cesses that en­sure that com­mer­cial as­pects don’t put too much pres­sure on driv­ers.”

With pro­vi­sions to Chain of Re­spon­si­bil­ity (COR) chang­ing in Oc­to­ber to re­quire more ac­count­abil­ity fur­ther up the chain, the ques­tion is whether it goes far enough, and whether it will ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence. Will cus­tomers at the top who drive down con­tracts be made to pay when a fatal­ity oc­curs as a re­sult of their choice of car­rier?

The topic of how much re­spon­si­bil­ity big cus­tomers should bear when choos­ing a trans­port provider is a hot one at the mo­ment, with in-prin­ci­ple sup­port for TWU’s view­point com­ing from un­likely spar­ring part­ners such as the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ATA), as well as some lead­ing trans­port op­er­a­tors.

Kaine says it was a mis­take to scrap the Road Safety Re­mu­ner­a­tion Act in 2016. “They were just about to make key or­ders when they pulled it down.

“The key as­pects of the or­der were go­ing to re­quire those at the top of the sup­ply chain en­sure they had ap­pro­pri­ate ten­der­ing prac­tices; that the con­tracts they gave out to trans­port op­er­a­tors paid those op­er­a­tors enough to en­sure the work was vi­able, so that the pres­sures on driv­ers wouldn’t arise in the first place.”

Cameron Dunn, man­ag­ing direc­tor of bulk liq­uid hauler FBT Tran­swest, whose ex­cel­lent safety per­for­mance is de­tailed on page 90 of this edi­tion of Owner//Driver, says he wants cus­tomers com­pelled by law to show their de­ci­sion-mak­ing process when award­ing con­tracts.

“If some­one gets killed, my be­lief is that the man­ag­ing direc­tor of the com­pany who or­dered the work should be brought be­fore a judge to ex­plain why he or she chose a cer­tain trans­port com­pany,” he says. “And if it shows they were cho­sen sim­ply be­cause they were the cheap­est, with­out due dili­gence done on their safety record, then the man­ag­ing direc­tor of that com­pany should go to jail.”

ATA pres­i­dent Ben Maguire agrees with the sen­ti­ment that re­spon­si­bil­ity needs to flow up as well as down. He says that with the in­com­ing changes to the pro­vi­sions of COR, ma­jor re­tail­ers are now start­ing to look harder at their obli­ga­tions when choos­ing trans­port op­er­a­tors. “There should be more com­mer­cial ben­e­fits if you’re go­ing to win ma­jor con­tracts. If you award a truck­ing con­tract to an op­er­a­tor who you

“We know

it’s a deadly

recipe and

it re­sults

in chronic



know is not do­ing that well and you don’t re­ally mind be­cause you’re get­ting a lower price out of them, then Chain of Re­spon­si­bil­ity should now go some way to ad­dress­ing that.”

How much wrig­gle room the pro­vi­sion of the sen­tence “so far as is rea­son­ably prac­ti­ca­ble” leaves re­mains to be tested.

Michael wants the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to do more: “They should put back in place a body that has the power to deal with those eco­nomic pres­sures, so that the con­se­quences driv­ers face, such as death, don’t arise in the first place. Busi­nesses are of­ten op­er­at­ing at a loss, with mas­sive man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers squeez­ing con­tracts as hard as they can. It means driv­ers are pushed re­ally hard, some­times too long and too fast.

“We know it’s a deadly recipe and it re­sults in chronic health out­comes.”

Path­ways to im­prove­ment

While bet­ter en­force­ment of truck­ing reg­u­la­tions and get­ting COR right are two things the in­dus­try is work­ing to­wards, the ele­phant in the room when it comes to se­ri­ous road trauma is small ve­hi­cle driv­ers.

Ben Maguire says more than 90 per cent of multi-ve­hi­cle crashes in­volv­ing a heavy ve­hi­cle that re­sult in death are the fault of the small ve­hi­cle driver.

“It’s clear that peo­ple driv­ing small ve­hi­cles are not be­ing trained prop­erly,” he says. “The com­mu­nity needs to be aware that their role in this is quite sig­nif­i­cant.

“If you’re 17 years old and sit­ting your writ­ten exam for your car li­cence, it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble you’ll be given a ques­tion about how to drive around heavy ve­hi­cles. So this is a com­mu­nity-wide is­sue.”

Re­search from the De­part­ment of In­fra­struc­ture and Re­gional De­vel­op­ment shows that 60 per cent of fa­tal crashes in­volv­ing a heavy ve­hi­cle also in­volve a light ve­hi­cle. Of those crashes, no fault was found for the truck driver in 84 per cent of cases.

With roads be­com­ing more con­gested, ten­sions be­tween cars and trucks show no sign of eas­ing; some­thing that clearly has to change if the two groups are to co-in­habit the same space.

The hu­man face

Fa­tal ve­hi­cle crashes make the head­lines, but it’s the less flashy health and safety in­ci­dents that add up and re­ally take their toll on our in­dus­try.

It’s the stress faced by driv­ers when they ar­rive on site and are told to go away, or to wait in their truck for a few hours be­fore get­ting un­loaded. It’s not hav­ing ac­cess to healthy food, a shower, in­ter­ac­tion, and sup­port from other peo­ple. It’s the lack of re­spect for do­ing your job.

Re­cently a joint safety sum­mit was run by the Aus­tralian Lo­gis­tics Coun­cil and the ATA, in which truck driv­ers held a work­shop to rep­re­sent all the pain points of their job. Maguire says it was a chance for reg­u­la­tors, re­tail­ers, and op­er­a­tors to hear first-hand from driv­ers about what the chal­lenges were.

“It’s about hu­man­is­ing the job, about valu­ing the work driv­ers do,” he says. “Hav­ing con­signors and con­signees in the same room meant they were able to net­work and col­lab­o­rate ef­fec­tively.”

No lack of try­ing

There’s no es­cap­ing the fact that the road is a very dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment. The more you’re ex­posed to be­ing on the road, the more your risk of in­jury or death goes up – whether you’re a truck driver or not. “We need to make hard de­ci­sions,” Kaine says. “Over a 10-year pe­riod, 2,543 Aus­tralians died in truck crashes. It puts it into a cat­e­gory of its own.”

Di­a­bol­i­cal as the sta­tis­tics might be, the is­sue of safety – or lack of it – in road freight trans­port gets more at­ten­tion ev­ery year. The con­ver­sa­tion never ends, even if we wish some­times that the chat­ter would stop and a one-stop so­lu­tion be in­vented.

Early Oc­to­ber saw the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor host a fo­rum look­ing at how to ad­dress driver fa­tigue is­sues, and the laws around how best to man­age it.

Log­books and driv­ing-hour en­force­ment re­main hot top­ics among truck driv­ers, so much so that you may find your­self fa­tigued just try­ing to keep up with the de­bate.

With so many dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties across the coun­try, all with in­ter­sect­ing and over­lap­ping in­ter­pre­ta­tions and ju­ris­dic­tions, just work­ing out what law you’re sup­posed to be obey­ing can be tax­ing. And while we hold fo­rums and talk about en­force­ment and try to get the reg­u­la­tory set­tings fine-tuned, an­other truck driver is dy­ing.

One thing all par­ties can agree on is that it’s sim­ply not good enough.

“Over a 10-year pe­riod, 2,543

Aus­tralians died in truck crashes.

Top: The Aus­tralian Work Health and Safety Strat­egy 2012-2022 aims to re­duce the in­ci­dence of se­ri­ous in­juryAbove: TWU na­tional sec­re­tary Michael Kaine

Be­low: ATA pres­i­dent Ben Maguire

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