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Dangerous behaviour common in trucking; economics the cause

New report reveals culture of risk-taking and dangerous behaviour in the trucking industry


A risk-taking mentality is entrenched within the transport industry and economic pressures may be a driving force behind it, according to findings from the nation’s workplace safety agency.

A new report from Safe Work Australia sheds an uncomfortable light on transport practices, revealing employers and employees are aware of dangerous behaviour going on and — more troubling — are prepared to accept it.

About a third (31 per cent) of employers believe workers ignore safety to get the job done, while 22 per cent believe staff break rules due to management pressure.

Almost half (45 per cent) of workers believe risks are unavoidable, while 40 per cent of bosses claim their workplace does not suit those overly concerned about injury (20 per cent for workers).

The report found that 20 per cent of employers break safety rules to complete work on time (six per cent in other industries); consider minor incidents a normal part of the job (10 per cent in other industries); and accept dangerous behaviour as long as there are no accidents (two per cent in other industries).

Transport employers nominate risk-taking and unsafe work practices as their top two perceived causes of injuries, which the report says are largely made up of sprains, strains and chronic joint or muscle conditions.

“Transport industry employers are more accepting of risk taking, rule breaking and minor incidents than employers in other industries,” the report says.

“Findings suggest that the apparent acceptance of unsafe work practices in the industry may be due to the economic pressures on the industry and the uncontrolled nature of the physical environment in which work is carried out, especially for van and light truck drivers.”

Transport ranks high among other industries when it comes to injuries and fatalities, but it appears there is a significant number of businesses which still do not take the issue seriously.

“Many employers in the transport industry appear to acknowledge that unsafe work practices and risk taking are leading to the high levels of injuries and fatalities in the industry,” Safe Work Australia says.

“The higher acceptance of risk taking and rule breaking in the transport industry compared to other industries is concerning. These may be key factors driving the high levels of injuries and fatalities.”

But while employers believe a large amount of rule-breaking is going on, workers think otherwise. Only six per cent claim they ignore safety rules to get the job done, and 12 per cent blame management pressure for breaking rules.

Furthermore, only one per cent of workers surveyed say they receive financial rewards for breaking the rules.

About 30 per cent of employers see conditions at the workplace as stopping employees from following safety rules, compared to 17 per cent of workers.

“The findings suggest that workplace conditions and, to some degree, pressure from management stops workers from following safety practices, highlighting work design as a problem,” the report says.

Safe Work Australia believes regulators need to work directly with the industry to address its acceptance of unsafe practices, but adds that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

“The differences in the way owner-drivers operate compared with employing businesses suggest tailored approaches are the way to go,” it says.

A recent campaign built around safety workshops struggled to attract interest from owner-drivers, compared to business owners and managers.

“Difficulties contacting owner-drivers highlighted that workshops are probably not the preferred way of influencing this group about safe work practices. Other ways of working with them need to be considered,” the report says.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has used the report’s findings to urge the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to hold major parties in the transport supply chain accountable.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon has labelled the findings “a damning indictment”.

“Rules are being broken because of pressure from billion-dollar companies at the top,” he says.

Sheldon claims drivers are pressured to skip breaks, drive fatigued for longer and faster with overloaded vehicles and face the sack if they do not accept breaking the rules.

“For too long truck drivers and transport operators have carried the can for what is going wrong in our industry,” Sheldon says.

“Trucking is Australia’s deadliest profession and until the very source of this problem is addressed, the carnage will continue.”


Photography: Brad Gardner

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