Playing it Safe

SafeWork NSW is the state’s workplace health and safety regulator.

The main functions of SafeWork NSW include the provision of advice aimed at improving health and safety at work, the administration of licences and registrations for potentially dangerous work, the investigation of workplace incidents, and the enforcement of work health and safety regulations within New South Wales.

SafeWork’s WHS Regional Director Lisa Foley displays a real passion about supporting the road transport industry and, along with her team, engages regularly with the sector including attending industry events and conferences where she frequently focuses on incidents relating to non-driving activities.

“To get into the heads and hearts and minds I find myself having to use real life incidents where people know what I’m talking about and therefore I am able to catch their attention,” Ms Foley says.

“Truck drivers know about fatigue, drugs, tailgating and trip planning but how many times is a truck driver going to jump out of the cab and not engage the handbrake? It only takes one time for him to do it and be fatally crushed.”

SafeWork NSW doesn’t use the word ‘accident’ according to Ms Foley, as the truck driver has successfully driven from A to B and potentially encountered a mix of opportunities for accidents which they have successfully avoided.

“Among the key harms we have identified includes ‘failure to immobilise’ where they get out of the truck without applying the parking brake and within moments the truck is crushing them, often as they have tried to get back in to apply the brakes,” she says. “We had a run of three such fatalities over a three-month period at the end of 2019.”

Other incidents can be due to distraction during the process of coupling or uncoupling a trailer, so the driver leaves the yard and the trailer drops off a few kilometres down the road.

“That typically happens while the truck is in motion on a road, but the root cause is back in the yard,” Ms Foley says. “A driver or offsider can become blind to the hazard of a reversing forklift during loading and unloading because they are so used to the reversing beeper of the forklift they get distracted and find themselves impacted by the forklift.”

SafeWork statistics and injury data are generally recorded according to where the incident happened. For example, an injury caused by material falling off a truck at a construction site will be marked down as a construction incident because it happened on a construction site.

“But the root cause is actually to do with the transportation of products,” Ms Foley says.

Not all incidents, however, involve truck drivers and loaders.

“We’ve had a run of fatal incidents where the driver or mechanic is doing work on a suspended component of a hydraulic system and are doing so without using any bracing or chocks. If the hydraulic system for whatever reason fails, there’s nothing stopping it from coming down in a hurry,” explains Ms Foley.

SafeWork WHS Regional Director Lisa Foley.

SafeWork’s Manager of the Central West Scott Murray is based in Dubbo. With his team he is developing a compliance strategy that is educational as well as about enforcement.

“Industry consultation has certainly been a major factor of this plan,” Mr Murray says. “It is important for us to differentiate ourselves from the other regulators in the Heavy Vehicle industry such as the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, Roads Maritime Services and other entities in various jurisdictions including police. We didn’t want to come along as yet another regulator tacking on another list of rules.”

There are a lot of injuries and deaths that don’t receive the media attention that road accidents and road safety related incidents get according to Mr Murray. People can be surprised at the number of and types of serious injuries and the deaths that occur from the transport sector in non-driving activities.

“As a workplace safety regulator, we have focused our latest plan at those non-driving activities because they do account for a lot of misery within the industry. Our whole approach has been one of collaboration and industry consultation and is not all about a ‘big stick,’” he says. “It’s about how can we make genuine improvements and lift the profile of workplace health and safety because in the transport sector, when people talk of safety, the industry straight away thinks of road safety.”

As most drivers know about the dangers of fatigue, they will try to wrap their hours around technical logbook schemes according to Mr Murray.

“Most know about the dangers of drink driving or drugs in their system. Most know about trip planning. There is a lot of money and resources being spent in that road safety space and most drivers have an inherent appreciation of those risks,” he says. “But when it comes to the same driver who is acutely aware of those on-road risks, he’ll pull up at the depot and he may just casually jump up on the back of the truck to help unload it. When it comes to non-driving that level of risk awareness is not carried through to other tasks which aren’t as glamorous as driving, but statistics show they can injure and kill more people than the driving incidents themselves.”

Mr Foley says it’s not about when they are driving A to B, but rather about when they reach their destination. It’s about the safety in doing the loading and unloading and also ensuring they have an appropriate place to take the rest break, go to the toilet, make a coffee, and to be able to have a bit of a break to clear their heads he explains.

“The rules and responsibilities for the loader of the truck are very much under the control of the NHVR, so with us, it’s about functions such as dropping the legs on the trailer or it’s the activity of getting on and off to hook up the lines,” says Mr Foley. “Anything where there is a risk that puts a force on the body.”

It’s all the little things that accumulate such as jumping out of the cab and rolling an ankle.

“A truck driver can have had a lifetime of knocks to their body and the accumulation of those physical injuries is going to lead on to them potentially being not as fit as they should be as they become older,” says Mr Murray.

He adds, “Now how do you get that into the message to the new 20-year old whose just taken up his licence?”

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