Physical injury risk blights transport
Transport workers are five times more likely to be injured than other Australian workers, a Linfox-funded study shows
PHYSICAL INJURIES around transport vehicles and mental impacts driving trains are heavy costs to the workforce and industry, a new report finds.
Findings from the Linfox-funded Monash University study, by the latter’s Insurance Work and Health Group, finds transport workers are up to five times more likely to be injured at work than any other Australian worker, with rail drivers 30 times more likely to develop a mental health condition than any other worker.
The high injury rate will come as no surprise on the face of it, given transport and logistics is the second-highest ranked industry for workplace fatalities. But it will raise questions about how far ahead the rate is against primary industries, which have the highest fatality rate. There is also likely to be huge disquiet at issues related to rail.
The findings are in the first report of the National Transport Industry Health and Wellbeing Study. Linfox Logistics partnered with Monash and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to support the research, which forms part of a detailed national study investigating the health of workers in the transport industry.
“This study forms part of our ongoing work to develop proactive strategies that empower our people to look after themselves and each other,” Linfox Logistics general manager of HR Lauren Pemberton says.
“Gaining deeper insights into common risk factors will allow us to refine our strategies and help shape the future health of our industry.”
Alex Collie, professor and director of the Insurance Work and Health Group at Monash University, sees transport workers being subject to a unique set of health risks in their working environment, including sedentary jobs, long working hours and shift work, isolation, fatigue and sleep deprivation, among others.
“This study presents a national picture of the health of people working in the transport and logistics industry,” Collie says. “Prior studies have focused on safety and on specific groups of workers.
“We used a large and detailed national database of work injury claims to examine a range of different injuries and diseases that affect workers across the whole industry.
“Our ultimate aim is to develop programs and services that can prevent illness and injury in the transport sector, and help people recover and return to work when they become sick.”
There are strong links between people’s health and their ability to work, Collie adds, so understanding and improving the health of an industry which employs 1.2 million people is important for the workers, their employers and the Australian economy.
TWU national assistant secretary Michael Kaine says the report’s findings show that the “pressures on transport workers, including long hours away from family, chronic fatigue and the stresses of meeting deadlines are clearly taking their toll.
“It should serve as yet another example of the need for a check on the transport supply chain, to ensure that the major clients at the top are being held to account for the pressure they exert on the industry and its workforce.”
The report finds that of the 3.5 million total accepted workers’ compensation claims in Australia during 2004-2015, 249,000, or 7.2 per cent, were from people employed in the ‘transport, postal and warehousing’ industry.
Truck drivers accounted for more than 120,000, including nearly 60,000 from drivers employed in industries other than transport. Delivery drivers, bus drivers and rail drivers were other substantial occupational groups, in addition to workers in non-driving occupations, a total 151,000 claims.
The rate of claims was up to five times higher in transport worker groups than in other workers.
Rail drivers recorded a rate of 99 claims for every 1,000 workers per year, followed by truck drivers at 70.3 per 1,000 workers per year. This compares to a rate of 21.2 for all other workers.
Musculoskeletal conditions were the most common in all of the transport worker groups. Delivery drivers and bus drivers had the highest proportion of musculoskeletal condition claims.
Truck drivers have the highest relative risk of fracture, with an incidence about 380 per cent higher than all other workers.
Rail drivers were at a 33-fold greater risk of making a workers compensation claim for a mental health condition than other workers. Vehicle incidents accounted for between 6 per cent and 23 per cent of claims depending on occupation.
More common mechanisms of injury and illness were musculoskeletal stress, or body stressing, falls and trips, and being hit by objects. There was wide variation in duration of time loss to injury and illness between occupation categories.
The longest duration was in automobile drivers at 24 working days per claim, followed by truck drivers at 17 working days, and then delivery drivers. The occupation with the shortest duration of time lost was rail drivers at six working days.
“These data demonstrate that workers in the transport sector are at increased risk of work-related injury and disease than workers in other occupations,” the report states.
“Some groups of transport workers have substantially longer periods of time off work after injury than workers in other occupations. The findings provide insights that can support injury and illness prevention and rehabilitation and return to work programs in the industry.
“For example, targeting prevention programs to groups at greatest risk (e.g. rail drivers) or large cohorts at high risk (e.g. truck drivers) may have the greatest potential impact on health and productivity across the industry. Similarly, designing prevention programs to address the mechanisms of injury and illness accounting for the greatest proportion of work-related injury and disease (e.g. body stressing, falls and trips) may deliver a larger improvement than focussing on less common mechanisms.”
“Chronic fatigue and the stresses of meeting deadlines are clearly taking their toll.”