Opinion: A walk in the shoes of a truck driver

By: Ben Maguire


The nation demands a lot of those in the cab but does too little on basic needs

Opinion: A walk in the shoes of a truck driver
Ben Maguire

 

"And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars".

These magical words by Banjo Paterson struck a chord with me early on in life and have inspired many a day and night on the road for me ever since.

Sadly, much of my time now is spent in the "dingy little office", so I thought it was time to walk in the shoes of drivers and spend some time to better understand rest stop quality and shortage which is becoming a major issue for trucking.

Australia has the fifth biggest freight task in the world and contributes to 9 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product, yet the everyday workplace for our drivers and operators is not up to standard. I am not sure anyone seems fully aware.


 Read how Ben Maguire started the ball rolling earlier this year here


Austroads released their guidelines for the provision of heavy vehicle rest area facilities in early May. Although the report quotes two drivers in the consultation section, it seems the driver community were not really consulted, and the report reflects this.

Once I got to the section where it states the best practice and busiest facilities ought to have toilets, shade, water and lighting as desirable assets, I began to think it was on the wrong track. Surely in 2018 we should be providing these basic human rights as mandatory items? It was when I got to the section suggesting that women drivers would likely accept unisex toilets, I realised that this report was going to miss the mark completely.

So here I am roadside at the VC Partridge Rest Area south of Sydney on a Thursday night. It was my turn to walk in the shoes of a truck driver and experience for myself what managing fatigue is like in a "best practice" truck rest area. As I sweat over my recent work diary entries, I am enjoying my home made sandwiched and think of the family.

It was an easy drive from Queanbeyan in the Volvo ATA Safety Truck. Having parked the truck and carried out an inspection on the trailer, I did a recce of the facilities. There was one B-double parked close by and the driver was clearly camped up for a long rest break. Apart from the frequent car stops for toilet breaks, there was not much else to report. The toilets were okay, and secure, although poorly lit.

I was bemused that the truck parking (in a herringbone pattern) was closer to the highway traffic than the cars, enhancing the noise. Whilst typing this blog, I am enjoying some favourite songs on the stereo, though looked forward to the challenge of sleeping while the heavy night traffic zoomed by.

Worksafe Australia suggests sound levels of less than 70 decibels for a workplace. It needs to be much quieter for decent and effective sleep. My trusty sound meter had already broken that level by peaks of over 90 when the jake brakes streamed past my cab. In this age of "fatigue focus" to enhance safety, I assert it is simply not good enough to expect heavy vehicle drivers to be held to account for their fatigue management when not being provided with facilities to do so.

You’ll get no whinging from this camper, though I can report it took a couple of hours to doze off in my noisy sleeper cab. I was woken a few times by road noise and other drivers pulling in for their rest time. At 4.30am it was time to move on and reflect on the experience.

As I drove back to my (not so) dingy little office, I wondered what my day would look like if I had ten hours on the road ahead of me. Instead, I retreat to the confines of a professional office workplace with clean toilet and shower as expected in all workplaces. I can only wonder why this is not so for workers contributing to such a vital industry for our nation.

Ben Maguire is CEO of the Australian Trucking Association

 

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