The Transport Workers’ Union has criticised a gaping lack of regulation and policy after police issued over 2,000 truck defect notices yesterday in the largest ever inspection operation.

Police inspected 5,000 trucks in an operation that also involved Victorian, Queensland, SA and ACT police forces checking trucks entering and leaving NSW. Police also revealed 26 drivers tested positive for drugs while RMS inspectors found one driver working in excess of the 12-hour limit who was “almost asleep at the wheel”.

“Truck drivers yesterday were made to carry the burden for an industry in crisis. They’ve yet again copped the fines and carried the charges. But wealthy retailers and manufacturers at the top are the ones who should be in the dock: their low cost contracts are putting financial pressure on transport companies and drivers which causes maintenance on trucks to get delayed. Drivers are pushed to work longer hours, speed and skip breaks,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.

“The Federal Government must take responsibility for driving down standards in the transport industry and increasing the death toll. It shut down a road safety watchdog two years ago and now we are seeing defective trucks on our roads and deaths sky-rocket. The Government did this despite repeated warnings and its own report showing the watchdog was cutting truck crashes by 28%*,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.

Official statistics show a 9.4% increase in deaths from truck crashes nationally. The figured for NSW spiked significantly with an 86% jump in deaths from articulated trucks. New Safe Work Australia data for 2017 showed almost 40% of all workplace deaths involved a transport worker. Despite overall workplace deaths decreasing last year, the number of transport workers killed on the job jumped to 66, up from 57 in 2016.

Numerous academic studies and coronial inquiries have established the lethal dynamic between pay and safety on the roads and the need for a safe rates system. A report by the National Transport Commission states: “There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use”.

In October, a cross-party Senate committee approved a report recommending that the Government facilitate industry talks to “establish an independent industry body which has the power to formulate, implement and enforce supply chain standards and accountability as well as sustainable, safe rates for the transport industry”.

Media Contact Judith Crosbie 0432552895

1. Truck crash deaths statistics
Safe Work workplace fatality statistics:
Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics fatal truck crash statistics:

2. Safe Rates
In April 2016 the Federal Government abolished a system backing safe rates that was holding wealthy clients such as retailers, banks, oil companies and ports to account for low cost contracts, which do not allow their goods to be delivered safely. This was despite the Government’s own reports showing a link between road safety and the pay rates of drivers and that the safe rates system would reduce truck crashes by 28%*.

3. Evidence of pressure
A Macquarie University study in February criticised a “critical gap” since the Government abolished the regulation that the independent tribunal represented, “that can eliminate existing incentives for overly tight scheduling, unpaid work, and rates that effectively are below cost recovery”.

The study also showed that:
• One in 10 truck drivers work over 80 hours per week.
• One in six owner drivers say drivers can’t refuse an unsafe load
• 42% of owner drivers said the reason drivers do not report safety breaches was because of a fear of losing their jobs

A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed:
• 31% of transport employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done
• 20% of transport employers accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries.
• 20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.

4. Senate report on road safety
In October the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee approved a report recommending industry-led talks to set up an independent body on “supply chain standards and accountability as well as sustainable, safe rates for the transport industry:

5. Mental health & suicide
A survey released in April showed more than 22% of truck drivers said they had experienced mental health problems. A study by Deakin University showed 323 truck drivers committed suicide between 2001 and 2010. (Suicide among male road and rail drivers in Australia: a retrospective mortality study). An analysis by the Victorian coroner’s court showing truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their own lives between 2008 to 2014.

* PricewaterhouseCoopers “Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System Final Report January 2016” (PWC Review 2016 – published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment on 1 April, 2016)

Media enquires: Judith Crosbie 0432552895

Transport Workers' Union NSW