Freight industry drivers are 15 times more likely to suffer fatalities than any other industry.
Freight industry drivers are 15 times more likely to suffer fatalities than any other industry. Warren Aitken

Freight drivers 15 times more likely to suffer fatality

EVERY day a truck driver gets behind a wheel, many feel it could be their last, according to findings by two university professors.

Associate Professor Louise Thornthwaite of Macquarie University and Dr Sharron O'Neill of UNSW Canberra have compared the Australian Road Freight Transport Industry's (RFTI) fatality levels to the average of all Australian industries and they discovered frightening reading.

In 2012, for instance, the fatality rate was 15 times higher in the RFTI than the average of all industries.

In 2014 it was 13 times higher.

This major study, evaluating approaches to regulating Work Health & Safety in the Australian Road Freight Transport Industry, has shed light on what has traditionally been a difficult and thorny topic.

"On the one hand we have well managed businesses saying they have the safety issue under control, and on the other hand we have drivers telling us they suffer injuries and daily near-misses, and that every day could be their last," Dr O'Neill, a senior lecturer in the School of Business, said.

"The work we have done validates all of the conflicting arguments and pieces them together, providing a powerful image of where various problems lie and what needs to improve."

The research, funded by TEACHO Ltd and Macquarie University, mapped an intricate web of WHS risk factors.

The issue is not just about road crashes, Dr O'Neill says.

Many fatalities and serious injuries occur in truck yards and depots, when the vehicle is still or moving slowly.

Of great concern is the fact that while individual incidents are on their way down, incident severity is trending upwards, according to Dr O'Neill.

"This suggests the industry is getting much better at managing the minor risks but is losing sight of some of the major ones," she said.