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Calls for truck-crash fatalities to be deemed workplace deaths

Union says current approach doesn’t place enough scrutiny higher up supply chain


Recent truck-driver deaths on Australian roads have led to renewed calls to treat truck-crash fatalities as workplace deaths to widen the scope of investigations.

Currently, road deaths involving commercial heavy vehicles are mainly considered as road accidents, which contribute to the road toll but are not considered ‘worksite’ deaths and hence may not warrant prosecutions under industrial law.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) reinforces a widely held view that trucks and roads still count as a driver’s place of work.

“There is a fundamental problem with the way the deaths of truck drivers are dealt with,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine tells ATN.   

“Firstly, many are not classified as workplace deaths, despite the fact that the roads are drivers’ place of work and the hazards are enormous.

“Secondly, deaths of drivers are often seen as unfortunate ‘accidents’ when in fact many of the incidents leading up to these deaths are entirely preventable.

“Never have the real culprits behind truck driver deaths been held to account.”

A recent example cited involved a driver dying after veering off the road at Logan Motorway at Tanah Merah, south of Brisbane.

“Often a forensic crash investigation will work out what contributed to the crash, but are unable to investigate the circumstances leading up to the accident – are drivers fatigued, under pressure or rushing to finish a delivery?” TWU Queensland branch secretary Peter Biagini told Fairfax at the time.

“These questions won’t be answered until these accidents are seen as workplace incidents.

“If someone was injured or died in their office, or a work site, there would be a full investigation into exactly what lead to that accident, who was responsible and what changes need to be made.

“Right now truck crashes are seen as road accidents, with brief investigations and often ambiguous outcomes.”

Despite a tighter Chain of Responsibility, enforcement is still considered a grey area.

The union says treating a death as a road accident does not adequately scrutinise the role of parties higher up the supply chain that may contribute to the incidents, including factors such as cost and time pressures potentially leading to fatigue, speed or lack of vehicle maintenance.

“Sadly at the moment there is not even a mechanism for investigating the supply chain to find out where the blame lies following a driver’s death,” Kaine tells ATN.

“What we need is a system that ensures drivers are safe at work, in order to minimise the risk of deaths and injuries at work.

“This system should be able to investigate transport sectors where safety is compromised and make rulings which hold economic employers at the top to account.”

Highlighting the perceived difficulty of enforcing COR, even though a recent truck-driver contractor death in Welshpool, Western Australia, was deemed a workplace incident, a WorkSafe spokesperson told ATN: “WorkSafe is investigating [the] incident, but the chain of responsibility appears to be quite complicated and the inspectors have not yet firmly established it.”

“A government agency should be given power to promptly and fully investigate serious truck accidents and to share the results and recommendations publicly,” NatRoad says. Read more, here


Industrial manslaughter

In response to the Welshpool incident, TWU WA added to calls for a uniform approach to truck-driver death investigations, escalating the matter to involve industrial manslaughter laws to increase employer accountability and act as a deterrent: “We believe the ultimate is saying: If you don’t supply a safe workplace, you go to jail.”

Industrial manslaughter laws are in place in the ACT and Queensland, with the latter bearing a maximum fine of $10 million and 20 years’ imprisonment, while ATN is aware of Victoria and Western Australia considering introducing such laws in their respective states.

The calls for industrial manslaughter laws were echoed in Victoria.

“There are so many loopholes in the current arrangements and some bosses, through negligence, are killing workers and never seeing a day in court,” TWU Victoria/Tasmania secretary John Berger says in a statement.

“These proposed laws will ensure employers take workplace safety seriously and cannot rely on deep pockets to avoid accountability.

“They will also help ensure the single most important thing to us as a union – that each of our members arrive home safely to their families at the end of every shift.”


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