Due to a high fatality rate, road transport has been identified as a national priority under The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022.
Between 2003–15, there were 583 work-related fatalities in the road transport industry, with 92% (535) occurring in the road freight transport industry.
Road transport: a definition
The road transport industry involves transporting freight by road and operating buses and taxis to transport passengers.
- The road transport industry is one of eight subdivisions of the transport, postal and warehousing industry. It includes road freight transport and road passenger transport.
The number of workers in the road transport industry has grown by 16% over the past 13 years from 2003 to 2015. In 2015, 74% of workers within the industry were classed as employees and were covered by workers’ compensation schemes.
There have been significant reductions in the number and rate of injuries and fatalities in this industry over the past decade, however it remains a high risk industry.
While the road transport industry accounts for 2% of the Australian workforce, latest data shows that it accounts for 4% of workers’ compensation claims for injuries and diseases involving one or more weeks off work, and 17% of work-related fatalities.
- Around 5,100 workers’ compensation claims are accepted from the road transport industry each year for injuries and diseases involving one or more weeks off work. This equates to 14 serious claims each day.
In 2014–15, the road transport industry had the 15th highest frequency rate of serious claims per 100 million hours worked and the 12th highest incidence rate per 1,000 employees. However, its fatality rate is very high; it had the fifth highest fatality rate (13.3 fatalities per 100,000 workers) of all industry subdivisions in 2015.
- Sprains and strains. The most frequent work-related injuries and illnesses reported by road transport industry workers are sprains and strains (46.4%) and traumatic joint or muscle conditions (16.2%). The comparable rates for workers in other industries are 45.7% and 14.7% respectively.
- Diseases of the circulatory system. Between 2008–09 and 2014–15, truck drivers had one of the highest rates of workers’ compensation claims of the circulatory system (for example stroke, coronary artery disease, hypertension and heart failure). They experienced these diseases at a rate of 68 claims per one million employees over the period, a rate second only to defence force members, firefighters and police (82 claims per one million employees). These diseases are a real threat for truck drivers given their often high levels of obesity, smoking, sleep apnoea and low levels of exercise.
Risks for road transport workers
Time pressures. Tight deadlines within the transport industry can make drivers feel pressured to speed and skip breaks.
Shift work, fatigue and physical fitness. Shift work is common in the road transport industry and working irregular hours can cause fatigue and have adverse effects on health and safety. Transport work, especially driving, offers workers only brief periods of physical activity, for example when they are loading and unloading. This means workers are at a higher risk of being overweight or obese, are less active and sit for long periods.
Poor vehicle design. Transport drivers’ workplace is their vehicle, and so the design of the seat and vehicle controls as well as the duration and frequency they drive will affect their risk of musculoskeletal discomfort. Poor vehicle design and driving over rough roads can increase exposure to vibration, which increases risks for disorders to the musculoskeletal system and organs.
Manual handling of heavy weights. Loading and unloading vehicles often involves lifting heavy weights.
Working at height. Drivers of trucks regularly climb onto and off their vehicle and falls are a cause of serious incidents. If the worker is required to access the load from the top of the vehicle appropriate fall protection needs to be in place.
Gases and fume exposure. Workers in the transport industry are more likely to report being exposed to airborne hazards such as gases and fumes than workers in other industries.
Our national approach
The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 has identified road freight transport as a priority due to the high number and rate of work-related fatalities and injuries and illnesses.
Road freight transport is a focus of national prevention efforts for the first five years of the Australian Strategy to help reduce the high number of fatalities and injuries in this industry.
- The Strategy aims to reduce the incidence of serious injury by at least 30% nationwide by 2022, and reduce the number of work-related fatalities due to injury by at least 20%. The transport industry will play a critical role in meeting these targets.
Since the Strategy launched, Safe Work Australia and all jurisdictions have been working collaboratively with the industry, unions, relevant organisations and the community to reduce traumatic injury fatalities and injuries in the transport industry.
SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about work health and safety compliance in the transport industry. If you need help, contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.