Study tackles transport industry’s high death rate


Friday, 03 February 2017

Comparing the Australian Road Freight Transport Industry’s (RFTI) fatality levels to the average of all Australian industries is frightening reading. In 2012, for instance, the fatality rate was 15 times higher in the RFTI than the average of all industries. In 2014 it was 13 times higher.

It’s no wonder some drivers admitted, in a recent study, to feeling that each day could be their last.

This major study, evaluating approaches to regulating Work Health & Safety in the Australian Road Freight Transport Industry, was carried out by Associate Professor Louise Thornthwaite (Macquarie University) and Dr Sharron O’Neill (UNSW Canberra). It has shed potentially life-saving light on what has traditionally been a difficult and thorny topic.

“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,” Dr O’Neill, a senior lecturer in the School of Business, says.

“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, Dr O’Neill says. 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,” Dr O’Neill says.

The study also examined the complex mix of regulation that exists in Australia to help ensure truck driver safety. Risk factors and regulation together provided the context within which to explore employee and owner-driver’s views on their safety at work. 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,” says Dr O’Neill, who is presenting with Associate Professor Thornthwaite at the TWU Safety Summit in Sydney on Feb 3.

“The study brings the entire network of risk and regulation together,” Dr O’Neill says. “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.”



Dr Sharron O’Neill, Senior lecturer, School of Business, UNSW Canberra

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