Study tackles transport industry’s high death rate

Australian truck drivers suffer daily near-misses and injuries, fearing each day could be their last, according to new research.

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Research has found the fatality rate in 2014 was 13 times higher in the road freight transport industry compared to the average for all other Australian industries. Photo: Shutterstock.

A new study has found many Australian truck drivers continue to work long hours and carry unsafe loads to avoid losing their jobs.

The major study, evaluating approaches to regulating work health and safety (WHS) in the Australian road freight transport industry, was carried out by Macquarie University and UNSW Canberra. The findings were presented at the Transport Workers Union Safety Summit in Sydney.

“On the one hand we have well managed businesses saying they have the safety issue under control, and on the other hand we have drivers telling us they suffer injuries and daily near-misses, and that every day could be their last,” said study author Dr Sharron O’Neill, a senior lecturer at UNSW Canberra’s School of Business.

“The work we have done validates all of the conflicting arguments and pieces them together, providing a powerful image of where various problems lie and what needs to improve.”

The research, funded by TEACHO Ltd and Macquarie University, mapped an intricate web of WHS risk factors.

“The issue is not just about road crashes,” said Dr O’Neill, who conducted the study while based at Macquarie University.

“Many fatalities and serious injuries occur in truck yards and depots, when the vehicle is still or moving slowly. Of great concern is the fact that while individual incidents are on their way down, incident severity is trending upwards.

“This suggests the industry is getting much better at managing the minor risks but is losing sight of some of the major ones.”

The study also examined the complex mix of regulation that exists in Australia to help ensure truck driver safety. The results revealed that while safety for many drivers was well managed, a significant minority had a very different experience.

“There is a lot to be learned from the findings, but I suspect many in the industry will react very positively to our feedback,” said Dr O’Neill.

“The study brings the entire network of risk and regulation together. It illustrates how they relate and recommends new ways forward, including the need for a simplified mix of regulation and better enforcement that targets recalcitrant players and ensures better accountability across the entire chain of responsibility.”