If you drive for work, you are more at risk of having a traffic accident. More time on the road means more risk, plus there are other factors that influence how likely you are to have an accident in a work vehicle (or your own vehicle that you’re using for work.)
We have the ideals of a ‘safe system’ in Australia where it should be impossible (or, at least, difficult) for a person to have a crash, but we have a long way to go. The safe system’s aim is protecting people from harm even when it’s their own fault, eliminating or minimising their exposure from dangerous transfers of energy (e.g. impacts, burning, etc) and to give the responsibility for that safety to people who can make a difference.
You are more likely to be killed at work in a vehicle than by any other means.
39% of worker fatalities were due to a vehicle collision on the road between 2003-2016. In total, 65% of all workplace deaths involved a vehicle (this includes incidents on private land).
What are the risks for drivers driving for work?
If we look at the trucking industry, it has one of the highest rates of circulatory diseases such as stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure and hypertension. The most commonly reported injuries are strains and sprains. What causes this increased risk?
- Time pressures – drivers feel stressed and they skip meals and toilet breaks
- Weight issues – poor diet and sedentary, sitting position lead to postural issues, muscle weakness, back issues and more. In more extreme cases it can affect a driver’s ability to react quickly
- Fatigue – shift work and the frequency of being overweight contribute to sleep apnoea and other sleeping disorders leading to chronic fatigue which reduces reaction times behind the wheel
- Manual handling – lifting heavy weights when loading and unloading can cause sprains and strains
- Working at heights – getting into and out of the cab is one of the major causes of falls. Other drivers work on top of trailers, e.g. stock truck drivers.
- Pollutants – drivers in urban areas are exposed to higher pollution levels; drivers that deal with toxic materials can come into contact with those materials if they are not careful.
Not all of those are specific just to the trucking industry as car drivers can experience all bar the working at heights factor.
Organisations have obligations for workplace health and safety
Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees therefore should have a plan in place to deal with the aforementioned risks. The risks are multifaceted and could have many contributing factors. For example, time pressure might be through inadequate planning (e.g. over-promising), traffic congestion (e.g. an unexpected accident causing a delay), staffing issues (e.g. a driver covering for another sick employee), vehicle condition and capability (e.g. vehicles that are older might not have the power to maintain speed up hills, or may have less efficient loading options), etc.
To an extent, a driver is responsible for some of these factors. Poor diet and lack of exercise are lifestyle decisions that the employer can only advise on and not enforce. If the driver uses their own vehicle (the ‘grey fleet‘) then a level of responsibility is required to keep it roadworthy.
Organisations may have less control over contractors even though they still have some responsibility for them.
What should an organisation do to keep its workers safe on the road?
The National Road Safety Partnership Program publishes information to help companies make decisions about road safety.
The first place to start is to develop a vehicle policy which covers vehicle operation and rules in your company.
A business should be aware that any one of the following is a worker for which you have a duty of care:
- an employee
- a contractor or subcontractor
- an employee of a contractor or subcontractor, or a labour hire company
- an outworker
- an apprentice or trainee
- a student gaining work experience
- a volunteer.
If any of them are using a vehicle, they must receive induction and training. Vehicles are considered an item of plant whether they are operated on the road or on private property such as factories and mines.
“Primary duty holders must ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the person, and workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the person, while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking. The primary duty holder must also ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.”
Just complying with road traffic law is not enough to ensure you have complied with your WHS obligations.
- Are your grey fleet vehicles maintained to a roadworthy standard throughout the year?
- Are you picking the safest vehicles when you lease or buy them? You can use ANCAP safety ratings to help choose.
The NRSPP publishes many documents within its resources section which will give you a head start over the majority of your peers.