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Company commitment crucial to safety outcomes: trucking researcher

University of NSW academic says actions of progressive industry managers have helped lower heavy vehicle fatalities.


Psychology and business culture are at the centre of trucking company driver safety outcomes, according to a university academic working on her third study of the area.

University of New South Wales academic Lori Mooren says strong safety policies and approach can mitigate a natural tendency to treat driving at work as different to personal transport.

The senior research fellow in transport and road safety research, whose work is partly funded by Zurich Insurance Australia, says many, though not all, trucking managers have tackled the issue with positive results.

“Heavy vehicle fatalities have decreased by 32 per cent over the past decade,” she says.

“The trucking industry is one where employers do know that there are serious risks to their employees, to their cargo and to their business in using the road.

“They have been a lot more proactive than most employers in managing risks of using the road.”

But the fact remains that managers deal with a reality that a person is 50 per cent more likely to crash in a company vehicle than a private vehicle.

“When people don’t own their own vehicle, they don’t treat it as well,” Mooren says.

“When they are travelling for work, they are often doing things like talking on a mobile phone, or they are in a hurry.

“The combination of distractions, speed and sometimes fatigue, are some of the reasons.”

She notes that employers can influence the safety of vehicles strongly and cites the example of BHP Billiton, which last year started purchasing passenger vehicles only with five-star safety NCAP ratings. 

Her research in the trucking industry has shown that the ‘safety culture’ of the particular business affects the crash rates.

“You can measure things like the perception that workers have that their bosses are committed to workplace safety above other objectives,” Mooren says.

“It’s a demonstration of clear commitment and a sense ‘safely is the way we do things around here’.

“When you have that culture of safety, then crash rates are likely to be lower.”

The converse is also true.

“A lot of research has found that some employers haven’t fully embraced the problem of crashes,” Mooren says.

“There is the attitude that someone else manages road safety, whether it’s the police or road authorities, and it’s really up to them to get people to follow the rules of the road.

“These employers are not owning the problem.”

Another significant factor for truck safety is the pay system for drivers.

“Do they get paid for waiting time, for loading and unloading? That’s a big issue for fatigue,” she says.

Mooren’s two earlier studies conducted with a number of colleagues have been on the state of heavy vehicle safety research, Safety management for heavy vehicle transport: A review of the literature, and into what management characteristics of heavy vehicle operators relate to high insurance claims versus low ones.

She recently shared some of her findings at Zurich customer forums on road safety held in Sydney and Melbourne.

“I am currently analysing the data from the third study in my program of research to develop a safety management system for heavy vehicle transport operators,” Mooren tells ATN.

“Early findings suggest that managers who assume responsibility for safety management and also who respect drivers’ input into safety decisions are likely to have lower incident rates.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the full analysis but I think these are really important learnings to come out of my current research.”

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