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When we approach holiday periods such as the end-of-year break and various long weekends, police and emergency services traditionally launch intensive road safety campaigns designed to reduce the devastating effects of transport-related accidents and deaths.

While various arguments rage about the effectiveness of these campaigns – or lack thereof, depending on your perspective – industry evidence suggests we need to pay a lot more attention to workplace-related transport injuries and fatalities, not just when we head off on holidays.

October was designated as National Work Safe Month, and this provides an opportunity to take a good, hard look at our collective OH&S performance as an industry and see what’s out there in terms of support.


The statistics

As Safe Work Australia states, road transport has been “identified as a national priority under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022, due to the high number and the rate of fatalities in this industry.”

Safe Work Australia’s Transport Industry Profile says, while our road transport industry accounts for just two percent of the country’s workforce, it was responsible for 17 percent of work-related fatalities between 2003 and 2015.

A massive 77 percent of road transport industry fatalities were due to vehicle collisions, while the next greatest cause of fatalities – deaths from falling objects – accounted for a mere seven percent of the industry’s fatalities.

In terms of workplace injury claims, Safe Work Australia noted a similar trend to fatalities: “[The] frequency rate of serious claims in the road transport industry has fallen 27 percent from 15.5 claims per million hours worked in 2001-02 to 11.3 claims per million hours worked in 2014-15. [This rate, however] remains almost double the rate for all industries at 6.5 claims per million hours worked and was the sixth highest of all industry sub-divisions in 2014-15.”

It’s important to highlight, while the total number of fatalities between 2003 and 2015 decreased by 34 percent in the transport industry, it still lagged sadly behind the overall trend of workplace deaths, which decreased by 41 percent across all industries over the same period, meaning road transport “remains a high risk industry”.


The causes

Road transport is an intrinsically dangerous occupation due to heavy and dangerous loads, but there are also a number of competing risk factors at play that further increase the likelihood of an incident for people working specifically in road transport, as well as anyone driving as part of their work.

Tight delivery schedules and congested roads mean drivers often don’t take enough breaks or exceed speed limits to meet deadlines. On top of this are the impacts of shift work, fatigue and, in some cases, less than ideal physical fitness levels. A tired driver is an accident waiting to happen.

People driving older vehicles with less-than-ideal designs (i.e. lack of adequate suspension in driving seats, poorly-designed vehicle controls, absence of driver aids etc.) are prone to debilitating soft tissue or musculo-skeletal injuries.

These injuries may not look serious on the surface but, if left untreated, inconsequential niggles like a stiff neck or sore lower back compound over time and, in some cases, could prevent someone from ever working again.

Neglected or poor maintenance – unsafe tyres, worn brakes, dirty ventilation systems, windscreen cracks, undetected drive and power-train faults – will also contribute to road safety issues. The absence of driver aids like GPS, hands-free phone answering and reversing sensors in older vehicles is an additional factor.


The actions

Reducing the number of accidents and workplace deaths involving opeople driving as part of their jobs is a serious issue. Apart from the cost to your business of neglecting workplace safety, and opening up a host of Chain of Responsibility liabilities, studies show that workplace-related accidents and incidents also adversely impact employee mental health, and has some devastating flow-on effects on workers families. To avoid putting your organisation and your staff in a situation like this, it’s worthwhile looking at the support that’s out there to help you in this area.

With more than 6,400 claims for workplace injuries in the transport sector each year, the NSW Government has recently formulated a strategy that aims to reduce serious injuries and fatalities at workplaces – The Transport Work Health and Safety Sector Plan. According to Matt Kean, Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation in the Berejiklian State Government, the plan will improve standards around loading and unloading of vehicles and develop safer traffic management plans in workplaces.

Likewise, with many transport businesses growing but not yet big enough to afford the cost of dedicated HR professionals, it’s a significant risk many organisations and operators run. With this in mind, a number of state governments have developed toolkits and a range of other resources to help organisations manage workplace safety requirements.

To support Safe Work Month and bolster their Transport Work Health and Safety Sector Plan, the NSW Government has launched a free workplace safety self-assessment toolkit for small business – Easy To Do Work Health and Safety toolkit – aimed at making small business owners more aware of their obligations and, as a result, encourage safer workplaces.

Although the vast majority of deaths and injuries are associated with heavier vehicles, drivers of passenger cars and smaller commercial vehicles can’t afford to be complacent when it comes to being safe at work. Upgrading your fleet and incorporating vehicles that include the latest manufacturer safety technology and driver aids such as GPS are improvements that can reduce the likelihood of your staff being involved in an accident.

Adopting telematics into your organisation is also worth serious consideration when it comes to improving workplace safety. The data made available to you and your staff from telemetry recording can help with significant improvements on vehicle and employee safety through better mechanical monitoring and servicing, fuel efficiency gains and better managing employee fatigue (perhaps the single biggest contributor to workplace accidents and death).

Workplace safety is a challenge but, with greater awareness and a safe work commitment across your organisation, we can all do our part in ensure everyone gets home safe at the end of the working day

Start a conversation with SG Fleettoday.

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