The heavy vehicle sector is one of the most dangerous industries in Australia, with an average of 180 deaths per year and an increasing number of hospitalisations. Most of those impacted are truck drivers. These workplace injuries, traumas and deaths have immense social and economic impacts on drivers, their families, businesses and the general public. Compounding these safety issues are working conditions that mean road transport drivers are more likely to experience chronically poor physical and mental health. The sector experiences higher levels of suicide than the general population.
The economic cost of road crashes alone equates to $27 billion per year. With the times we are currently living in, it cannot be overstated how important the industry is, and has been during the pandemic.
There is a safety crisis in the industry and the underlying economic and contracting pressures are the leading causes of this safety crisis. These pressures are often caused by the major clients of the transport supply chain who set rates of pay, and the terms and conditions. This behaviour has resulted in a ‘race to the bottom’ on prices.
While these problems are already catastrophic, they are getting worse with the emergence of the so-called gig economy in the transport industry. Gig economy transport companies are fast eroding already poor conditions for transport workers.
The role of governments has to date focussed on scrutinising the risk taking behaviour of drivers (such as driving whilst fatigued, drug use and speeding), and consequent enforcement mechanisms. There are insufficient efforts to address the underlying systemic causes for such behaviour and the way in which such pressures are driving unsafe work practices. These pressures all too often come from the top of the supply chain.
Transport workers and operators are being increasingly compelled to work harder and faster to sustain themselves - and this has created an environment where risk-taking behaviour has become the only competitively viable option in the industry.
This inquiry has clearly demonstrated the need for immediate government intervention to change the operation, practice and, safety culture of an industry that the entire country relies on. Urgent proposals for reform put forward by submitters across all parts of the sector include a focus on making the industry sustainable, making training and safety the number one priority, and addressing the underlying causes of unsafe behaviour.
In order to make this happen the central recommendation of this committee, and the submitters, is for the establishment of a central powerful independent body to regulate, promote, fund and support all parts of the sector.
Without the road transport industry the country would grind to a halt. There is no alternative for the services the sector provides. This inquiry is an opportunity for governments of all persuasions across the country to support an industry that supports so much of Australia.