Vehicle related incidents currently represent the majority of workplace fatalities in Australia. Despite a decline in fatalities year on year, the persistence of vehicle incidents illustrates the critical need for targeted interventions in the transport sector.

The 2023-2033 Australian WHS Strategy is a Safe Work Australia initiative aimed at addressing the weaknesses across Australia’s workplace safety landscape. It sets to create an overarching framework for organisations in reducing the number of workplace related injury and illness. With vehicle incidents continuing to pose a challenge for organisations, it is clear why the transport sector remains a focus of the strategy.

Every worker in Australia should be afforded the opportunity to return home safely each day from work. So, what factors contribute to fatalities in the road transport industry? And what can be done to promote a culture of health and safety in a high-risk industry?


The key factors contributing to transport fatalities

The heavy vehicle sector is an integral component of Australia’s connected transport system. It supports a growing population, urbanisation, and connectedness with global trade. With thousands of organisations whose operations span across Australia, the road transport industry is faced with several challenges that contribute to workplace fatalities.

Here are some of the main contributors to the current safety climate of the transport sector:

  • Time critical tasks that when delayed, impact on impending assignments and delivery windows
  • Working under challenging and changing conditions
  • Weak or non-existent cultures for safety and accountability in compliance
  • Complex and ever-changing legislation unique to each state and territory
  • High risk activities that are often heightened by driver and machine operator fatigue

A central element of the WHS regulations in the road transport sector is the Chain of Responsibility (CoR). As a part of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), the CoR describes the responsibilities of parties engaged in road transport activities, who are each accountable for the safety of the heavy vehicle, its driver, and its load throughout its journey. The legislation surrounding road transport is complex and exhaustive. It requires parties to the CoR to produce documentation, manage logbooks and demonstrate procedures around loads and declarations to minimise the risks associated with heavy vehicle transport.


The ripple effect of road transport fatalities

A transport operator’s involvement in a very public incident in 2020 has recently been examined and has since received an increase in media attention. The incident occurred between a heavy vehicle and other stationary vehicles stopped as a result of police management of a dangerous driver on the Eastern Freeway in Melbourne. The truck driver, who at the time of the collision was found to have been driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol whist also fatigued, claimed the lives of four people standing at the roadside.

Following the collision, an investigation commenced in relation to the compliance management practices of the transport company. The investigation revealed that in the seven months prior to the incident, more than 40% of the of the company’s driving shifts had one or more fatigue related breaches. In November 2023, a Magistrate convicted and fined the company $2,310,000 and imposed an immediate suspension of all further transport activities for a period of 12 months.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s response to the case expressed the importance of compliance with the HVNL, ensuring that all workers are trained and inducted in how to identify and recognise the risks associated with fatigue. The Magistrate additionally pinned the company executives and people who hold positions of influence in companies, and how they must take an active role in ensuring their company complies with its primary duty under the HVNL.

This case is a sobering reminder of the impact a failure to manage designated duties in accordance with the CoR in the transport sector. It not only affects workers and operators directly but also poses a considerable risk to public safety. The implications of these incidents extend beyond individual tragedies, affecting families, communities, and other drivers on the roads.


Fostering a culture of safety in transport organisations

A critical aspect of reducing fatalities and safety incidents in the transport sector is cultivating a robust safety culture within organisations. Research lead by The International Association of Applied Psychology reveals that a culture of safety, or lack thereof, directly influences transport safety behaviour and safety outcomes in the sector.

Safe Work Australia recognises the need for a concerted effort from stakeholders across the sector, outlined in the Australian WHS Strategy enablers:

  1. Embedding good WHS practices in all work, across all industries, cohorts, and hazards
  2. Innovating and deepening knowledge of WHS risks to broaden understanding
  3. Collaborating consistently and effectively to respond to WHS challenges

Beyond simply adherence to regulatory requirements, thought leaders in the transport sector are focused on building a culture of safety and compliance within organisations, embedding training and support programs for workers.

Workplace leaders must continue to demonstrate their commitment to health and safety through active participation in internal safety initiatives. When employees are trained, supported and encouraged to recognise and respect the responsibilities around managing workplace risks, workers hold each other accountable for their approach towards WHS requirements.


Harnessing technology to enhance safety and compliance

In overcoming the multifaceted challenges of compliance management in the transport sector, the Cm3 ecosystem emerges as a valued resource for operators. Cm3’s comprehensive solutions empower operators to not only meet their legislative requirements to keep their workplaces safe, but to foster a culture of safety across organisations.

Cm3’s dedicated team of Assessors have extensive knowledge around the systems of transport safety and the legislative requirements of organisations to maintain safe work environments. Contractors in Cm3 who present with known risks are assessed against governance and practice aspects of the CoR, with a focus on the five key areas of fatigue management, loading, speed compliance, mass and dimension and maintenance.

Embracing a culture of safety, leveraging technology, and implementing best practice standards supported by experts, transport operators can pave the way for safer roads and a further reduction in transport fatalities.

Speak to a solutions expert about Cm3’s ecosystem today.