The transport industry is one of the most important industries in Australia. Every industry in Australia depends on transport and logistics to some degree.
If trucks were to stop for just 24 hours, fuel stations would begin to run out of fuel, hospitals would start to run out of basic supplies and supermarkets would be unable to restock staple items. If trucks were to stop for 2-3 days ATM’s would run out of cash, fuel stations would be dry, garbage would start piling up, and foods shortages would worsen.
While trucks play a very important role in keeping Australia moving, unfortunately the likelihood of a truck being involved in an accident is much higher than that of a smaller vehicle. This is because trucks can take longer to stop or react to different situations due to their significant weight. In 2012 19% of all road fatalities involved a heavy vehicle.
In this article we take a look at the common causes of trucking accidents and when you may be able to make a work-related claim if you are injured while driving a heavy vehicle.
Truck Accident Causes
All industries have a risk, even if only very minor, of worker injury or fatality. However, Safe work Australia has found that truck drivers are 15 times more likely to die than workers in any other industry. The Transport Workers Union believes the ergonomic demands placed on truck drivers have led to a culture of risk-taking and law breaking in trucking.
A report from Safe Work Australia showed 20% of those who work in the transport industry break safety rules to meet deadlines. Truck drivers in particular, state they are under pressure to break the law, with the biggest problems being skipping rest breaks or cutting them short and using their rest break to load or unload. Pressures to make their delivery time have also contributed to speeding and drug-driving.
The number of truck drivers caught drug-driving over the last 5 years has doubled, from 91 detections in 2011 to 195 detections in 2015. More than 100 drivers have already been caught in the first 6 months of this year. Figures obtained from the Queensland Police reveal the regions where the highest number of truck drivers have been caught drug-driving from 2011 – 2015 and include:
- South-West Qld – 90 truck drivers;
- Darling Downs – 81 truck drivers;
- Capricornia – 60 truck drivers;
- Wide Bay/Burnett – 48 truck drivers.
Data released by Safe Work Australia in 2014 revealed that approximately 80 workers are killed each year while working in or around a truck, with 39% of these people killed in single vehicle truck crashes. While speed was a factor in some of these crashes, for others the truck accident causes were unknown, but fatigue and inattention are likely contributing factors.
What are the work and rest requirements for heavy vehicle drivers and who sets the standards?
The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HNVL) and Regulations addresses laws for heavy vehicles over 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass. The HVNL is designed to promote consistency throughout Australia so that regardless of which state or territory an inspection is conducted in, drivers and enforcement officers experience the same outcome. The Laws and Regulations commenced in the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, and Vic in February 2014. WA and the NT are still yet to commence the HNVL.
The HVNL covers a broad range of on-road compliance and enforcement activities, one of which addresses prescribed work, rest, driver fatigue and work diary requirements.
They set out 3 work and rest options, being:
- Standard Hours – Standard hours apply to all drivers who do not have accreditation for fatigue management. In a 24 hour period a driver must not work for more than a maximum of 12 hours and must have a minimum of 7 continuous hours of stationary rest time;
- Basic Fatigue Management (BFM) – Drivers with BFM accreditation can work up to 14 hours with a minimum of 7 continuous hours of stationary rest time in a 24 hour period;
- Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM) – AFM accreditation brings a risk management approach to managing fatigue. There are no set work and rest hours under AFM. Under this accreditation operators/drivers can propose their own hours as long as the fatigue risks of those hours are offset by sleep, rest and other management practices in a compliant fatigue management system.
Who is responsible?
Under the HNVL everyone in the supply chain has an obligation to ensure breaches of road transport laws do not occur. Duty holders need to make sure that their action or inaction does not contribute to, or encourage breaches of the HVNL.
In addition to the HNVL employers have a duty to keep their drivers safe and must take all reasonable steps to prevent their drivers from breaching their work and rest limits. An employer has a primary duty to ensure, as far as it is reasonably practicable, that a worker is not exposed to health and safety risks. This extends to allowing their drivers to stop if they are at risk of exceeding their driving limits and making alternative arrangements for delivery of the goods.
What can employers do?
Employers can also minimize the risk of injury occurring to their drivers by ensuring that:
- Rosters and schedules do not require drivers to exceed driving hours, regulations or speed limits;
- They keep records of their drivers’ activities, including work and rest times;
- They take all reasonable steps to ensure drivers do not work while impaired by fatigue or drive in breach of their work or rest periods;
- Vehicles are regularly maintained, and if speed limiters are fitted they are functioning properly;
- Vehicles are not loaded in a way which exceeds mass or dimension limits;
- Drivers moving freight containers have a valid Container Weight Declaration;
- Loads are appropriately restrained with appropriate restraint equipment.
Failure by the employer to eliminate or minimise the risk of injury to their workers may see that employer liable in negligence to a worker who is injured as a result of these breaches. A worker in this situation may be successful in a common law claim for negligence against their employer.
Providing certain conditions are met, a worker is also able to apply for and receive statutory benefits from WorkCover Qld for their injury. This should be done prior to considering bringing a common law claim for damages against an employer. Such benefits generally include payment of weekly wages for the duration they are incapacitated for work, and payment of medical and rehabilitation expenses.
What does this mean for the transport industry?
There is no doubting that the trucking industry plays an important role in everyday Australia. Over 95% of Australia’s road freight is carried in heavy vehicles weighing 4.5 tonnes or more and the Road Freight Transport industry is expected to increase in the coming years.
This will mean more heavy vehicles will hit our roads, along with an increased demand to employ truck drivers. The safety of these truck drivers should be paramount to their employers. Employers have a duty to keep their workers safe by eliminating the risk of injury as far as it is reasonably practicable. Workers too have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to ensure they follow the applicable procedures and laws. If this is adhered to by both employers and workers it may go a long way in ensuring truck drivers make it home at the end of their shift.