When a transport worker dies out on the road, doing their job, police set up a crime scene, they notify the coroner who does not always hold an inquest. Too often, the death on the road of a heavy vehicle operator at work is a “stock-standard” road fatality. SafeWork does not get involved.
A few weeks ago, the TWU on behalf of transport workers appeared at the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the jurisdiction, resources and scope of the coroner. The TWU has a keen interest as we advocate for the industry where heavy vehicle operators are over-represented when it comes to deaths at work.
The TWU wants a reduction of the passivity of authorities when it comes to investigations into the transport worker deaths on the road.
We definitely want to see more SafeWork involvement in investigations. Too often, their appearance is only at the worst examples of a safety breach from a person conducting an undertaking or business in a yard.
On the road, the investigation usually stops at the end of the skid marks.
Our submission to the inquiry notes that when the police are investigating a road incident of any kind, whether it involves a truck or not, they are looking to who is at fault in the incident.
What police are often unable to look at, even if the transport worker is at fault in an accident, is the circumstances that might surround that accident. A relationship between coronial inquests, police accident investigations and SafeWork should be at play ensuring the investigation of bigger issues like fatigue management, dodgy maintenance as possible causes.
Transport workers have a unique workplace, but it is a workplace nonetheless, there is still an underlying duty that ensures a safe workplace, whilst they are at work on our roads. We are asking the question as to why transport workers get different treatment to those in other workplaces.
We have seen the proof, worked with researchers and we know there are a number of factors that contribute to the high incidence of transport worker deaths.
At the core of the issue is the increasing cost pressures facing road transport industry, from owner-driver small businesses right through to the major transport operators.
Truck drivers and transport operators continue to face significant increases in many of their key costs of operation, including fuel, Transurban road tolls, registration and associated taxes, and insurance.
These costs have steadily increased over recent years, but the remuneration of transport workers has not kept pace. In addition to these cost pressures, transport workers are increasingly feeling the squeeze of extreme pressure from major retailers at the top of the supply chains.
The TWU believes that when a transport worker does not make it home from work, their family and our transport community needs to know why, not just how the accident occurred.
We need certainty to ensure that the causes of road transport deaths are properly determined and that the role of the bodies involved in workplace fatalities is properly clarified, including how they work together to help us make a safer industry.
One witness to the parliamentary inquiry summed it up as follows: “We need to take care of every Australian because no Australian should ever go to work and die.”