A recent fatal accident involving two trucks has brought little reaction from industry associations
YOU CAN just about make out the front of the truck, the grid barely visible amid the angry red blaze. Photographs and video show flames leaping high into the Queensland sky, flanked by black smoke. Debris litters the ground. The head on collision between two trucks last month that killed two drivers on the Kennedy Highway at Tichum Creek was horrific by any standards. What has made it all the worse is the fact that both trucks were owned by Blenner’s Transport.
The Queensland company has previously been at the centre of investigations into serious fatigue breaches. In 2012, police raided the company and investigations were launched. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator got involved and the chain of responsibility (COR) laws were invoked. ABC Four Corners exposed what was going on.
Drivers copped the blame for the breaches – 45 were fined $65,000. But the company has never been held to account, with all charges related to fatigue management and COR against it eventually dropped last year.
A statement from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads shows that the charges were not dropped because they were unproven: “The prosecution was discontinued due to a combination of assessing the progress of the litigation up to that point, the fact that the relevant legislation in issue had now been repealed, and the level of Blenner’s compliance since the litigation first commenced,” a Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said at the time.
More importantly the companies that Blenner’s was working for were never held to account. Operations manager Stephen Gleeson, who won an unfair dismissal case after he was sacked by the company for raising safety issues, had also raised the problem of the pressure Blenner’s clients were putting on the company.
One year later two drivers are dead; their families and communities left devastated.
Following last month’s tragic events our union called for a full investigation into the crash that killed the two drivers. At the time of writing, no investigation to our knowledge has begun.
Since the Federal Government tore down a road safety watchdog over two years ago, there is no organisation where we can raise our concerns, while the authorities and regulators ignore our demands for an investigation.
Meanwhile, Blenner’s adopt a bullying tactic. It has sent our Queensland branch a solicitor’s letter demanding it retracts the contents of a press release sent out after the double fatality calling for an investigation.
The silence from some in the industry is deafening.
Blenner’s has, since 1997, been a member of the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) accreditation TruckSafe, which its website says is “is aimed at improving the safety and professionalism of trucking operators nationwide”.
This is not the only window-dressing that goes on in our industry.
The ATA and the Australian Logistics Council have lately been pumping out flawed plans for safety in trucking. Both organisations are desperate to look like they care about the slaughter involving trucks on our roads. But the weak voluntary codes and the platitudes that “more needs to be done” are really like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
The truth is these organisations are doing nothing for our industry. Even their gasps over the “big win” following the Federal Transport Minister’s announcement at NatRoad’s annual conference of funding for road safety projects turned out to be a dud. The Federal Government has in fact cut $134 million from the Heavy Vehicles Safety and Productivity Programme since it took office.
I’d like to echo the sentiments of another columnist from these pages who asked last month: what have the politicians and industry groups, which promised the world when they tore down the road safety watchdog, delivered since then?
There has been no increase in rates and unpaid work, waiting time, and financial insecurity are still major problems. Transport operators are still going to the wall at a higher rates than most other industries because the margins are so tight.
Companies and their clients still aren’t held to account when drivers get pressured into gruelling work practices and they are still be able to sack anyone who calls them out. In fact, clients have in the last two years been given a green light to heap the pressure on even more. Just look at how Aldi has been emboldened to take our union to the Federal Court to try and stop drivers speaking out about rates and conditions in their supply chain.
And of course the slaughter is still continuing. Deaths from truck crashes are still far too high, while truck drivers are still more likely to be killed at work than any other profession.
The good news is there are industry groups, transport operators, and drivers who understand the nothingness that these weak organisations deliver. They have joined the push for real change that will stop the rot and make our industry better. To join this fight, go to www.saferates.org.au.
“The authorities and regulators ignore our demands for an investigation.”
Below: Police raided Blenner’s Transport back in 2012