By Adam Carey, 30 July 2015

The trucking industry’s reputation as one of the most dangerous in Australia has been reinforced by a survey in which hundreds of employers admit  sometimes breaking safety rules to complete work on time, and  say workplace injuries are simply an everyday risk of the job.

In a survey of more than 1000 businesses by statutory authority Safe Work Australia, 20 per cent of employers agreed they broke safety rules to complete work on time, compared to an average of 6 per cent in other monitored industries.

One in five also agreed they “consider minor incidents a normal part of daily work”, compared with one in 10 elsewhere.

Truck drivers face the highest exposure of all industries to hazardous gases and dust, fumes, sun, loud noise and vibration, the survey found.

Injuries, including sprains, strains and chronic joint and muscle problems, were also more common among transport workers than in other industries.

More transport workers die each year than in any other industry, Safe Work figures show. Forty-eight of 184 workplace deaths in Australia last year were in the transport sector. Only agriculture, forestry and fishing, with 46 deaths, had a comparable death rate.

The survey, released this month, found there were significant gaps between employers and employees in attitudes towards safety, with staff showing significantly less faith in workplace health and safety practices than their employers did.

The report found evidence of a widespread culture that tolerated risky behaviour to get the job done as quickly as possible, which likely contributed to the high rate of deaths and injuries.

“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,” the survey report states.

“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.”

About 90 per cent of employers believed their company had good workplace safety standards that took  the views of workers into consideration, compared with 75 per cent of workers who felt properly listened to.

Workers were less likely than their employers to agree that there was consistent reporting of accidents, near misses and health and safety concerns.

The Transport Workers Union leapt on the survey as evidence rule-breaking was rampant among employers, who were putting drivers’ lives at risk.

The union called for the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, the road safety watchdog established by the former Gillard government, to hold companies at the top of the supply chain to account for rule-breaking in transport.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said drivers were pressured to skip breaks and drive for longer and faster with overloaded vehicles in a stressed and tired state.

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

The  tribunal has the authority to set rates of pay for truck drivers as a means to improve worker safety. It has been attacked by the industry for unnecessarily increasing the regulatory burden on operators.

In Victoria, the Transport Industry Safety Group has recently been formed at the recommendation of the state coroner, after a 14-year-old boy was fatally hit by a truck whose driver was found to have been poorly trained.

Extracted in full from The Age.