Truck deaths: what is the answer?

NSW Roads and Maritime Services director of compliance Roger Weeks and Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy launch Operation Rolling Thunder. Photo: NSW Police.

Following another horror month in truck-related deaths and injuries, conditions, pay, law enforcement or new trucks have all been mooted as the answer.
Law enforcement
In NSW and with the cooperation of surrounding states, police launched Operation Rolling Thunder.
The operation, involving NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) and the NSW, Victorian, Queensland, ACT and South Australian Police Forces, was claimed to be Australia’s largest heavy vehicle operation ever. Police were cracking down on truck compliance across the country, including vehicle safety, driving hours and fatigue, load compliance and DUI.
On the day there were over 300 NSW police involved directly, over 150 RMS inspectors, and the three other states and the ACT.
Police were covering every entry and exit into NSW and all of the Sydney metropolitan area.  They were targeting all of the major motorways, and police and RMS were set up at all major checking stations throughout the state.
Are new trucks the answer?
Industry body the Truck Industry Council (TIC), which represents no fewer than 17 truck brands in Australia, called on the Federal Government to incentivise Australian truck operators to invest in newer, safer and more sustainable vehicles.
The response has been triggered by shock revelations that truck deaths in NSW rose during 2017 by a staggering 86 per cent. Road deaths involving trucks leaped from 29 to 54 last year.
Phil Taylor, president of the TIC called for the Government to prioritise in the 2018/19 federal budget the modernisation of Australia’s truck fleet.
“Increasing the take-up rate of today’s more advanced trucks means everyone benefits from our roads being populated with safer fleets.
“Having been around trucks and the Australian road transport industry since the late seventies, I can verify that significant improvements have been made in regard to truck and road safety,” Mr Taylor said.
In 2017, the average age of the Australian truck fleet was 14.9 years, and with the national freight task continually expanding, this figure is set to rise. Hence, the TIC has long called on government for genuine support in helping operators upgrade their fleets to a more robust safety standard.
What about pay and conditions?
The transport Workers Union has long been calling for an examination of truck drivers’ pay and conditions, and believes recent events reinforce that call.
Three horrific crashes and a $468,000 wage theft case confirm that the transport industry is in crisis, the TWU has warned.
The union has sought to bring the following to the public’s attention:

  • Five people, including three truck drivers, have been killed in three separate truck crashes in NSW, one in Dubbo in which two people were killed after a truck hit their car while waiting at roadworks, and another that caused the M1 to be closed for over 15 hours.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman announced that SA based transport operator Atkins Freight has been forced to pay $468,000 in backpay and fines to 10 of its drivers.

“The Federal Government has blood on its hands over these deaths. It was warned repeatedly not to shut down an independent road safety watchdog because deaths on the roads would increase. Its own report on the tribunal showed its Orders were cutting trucks crashes by 28%. Families and communities are being torn apart while all we get from the government is silence,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon.
“Official statistics show a 9.4% increase in deaths from truck crashes nationally. The figured for NSW spiked significantly with an 86% jump in deaths from articulated trucks. New Safe Work Australia data for 2017 showed almost 40% of all workplace deaths involved a transport worker. Despite overall workplace deaths decreasing last year, the number of transport workers killed on the job jumped to 66, up from 57 in 2016.
“The wage theft case shows what drivers face – they are under pressure to speed and drive gruelling hours to meet unrealistic deadlines and all the while they are being ripped off their wages. There is a crisis in transport that is being caused right at the top of the supply chain – by the wealthy retailers and manufacturers financially squeezing operators and drivers. The Federal Government is standing by and letting this and the deaths happen. This crisis reflects a total failure of the federal administration,” said Mr Sheldon.
“The trucking community, including the Australian Trucking Association, must come on board and back a sustainable solution to the crisis in trucking. Band-aid solutions will not stop truck drivers and other road users from being slaughtered.”

Worker crushed by falling pallets

A 47-year-old man has died after several pallets fell on him at transport and logistics company Toll New Zealand in Onehunga, Auckland.
The incident occurred around 11.30am local today and the employee was pronounced dead at the scene, Stuff reports.
St John Ambulance spokesman Robbie Walker said paramedics worked on him after he was pulled from the pile, but were unable to revive him.
Royce Christie, Toll spokesman, said the company was “deeply saddened that the incident resulted in the death of an employee”, extending sympathies to the man’s family and friends.
“Our priority now is to offer support to the family of our employee and to our people at the site.”
WorkSafe New Zealand was informed of the incident, with investigations to be conducted by police.

Calls for coronial inquest after death at sea

A Japanese ship was forced to stop in Mackay yesterday so crew members could seek medical treatment after a 26-year-old Filipino sailor died from a "sore throat".

The young seafarer died at sea en route to Gladstone, and his crew mates were allegedly denied medical treatment for two weeks, in what an expert has said adds to the growing issue with flag of convenience shipping in Australia.

International Transport Workers Federation Australia national co-ordinator Dean Summers said he was saddened to hear of the tragic death of the young man.

"One of the worst features of the Panamanian flag of convenience is there will be no real inquiry into this man's death," Summers said.

Flag of convenience ships are owned by companies who register them in third world countries to avoid scrutiny of poor operating and working conditions.

There is currently a senate inquiry into FOC shipping, including an investigation into three suspicious deaths on board the Panama-flagged Sage Sagittarius in 2012.

"Here is a healthy young man; you have to have a medical to get on board, he has a sore throat in China," Mr Summers said of the latest tragedy.

"He was apparently diagnosed with tonsillitis… and on December 19 has died on board this ship on its way to pick up a cargo of coal from Queensland."

Nine of the surviving crew complained of similar symptoms, but were allegedly told they would need to pay $500 each to see a doctor in the first port of Gladstone.

"These seafarers are paid so little they do not have $500 to pay for a medical out of their own money, which by law must be provided free by the shipping company," Summers said.

The ship continued from Gladstone to Mackay, where the ITF fought for the seafarers to receive medical treatment.

The ITF is calling for a coronial inquest into the seafarer's death. His body has been taken to Rockhampton for an autopsy.

Maritime worker killed off Pilbara coast

A worker has died on Tuesday morning after he was injured trying to secure cargo aboard a ship off the Pilbara coast.

39 year-old Newcastle resident Andrew Kelly was caught between a mini-container and a cargo skip after a wave crashed over the back deck of the Skandi Pacific at approximately 5:30am AWST.

Kelly was taken to a nearby drilling platform for medical assistance, but died of his injuries.

He was survived by his wife and four children, all under the age of 10.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said AMSA investigators would inspect the vessel in Dampier.

"AMSA surveyors were expected to visit the vessel this morning which is now in Dampier,” she said.

The company which operates the vessel, Norwegian company DOF Group, said the safety of staff and their families was a priority.

"We are doing everything we can to support the families and other crew members," the company said.

"The Skandi Pacific will be met by DOF representatives and a team of professional counsellors will be on hand to offer support and care for the crew onboard."

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the union would work with the regulator to ensure the cause of Mr Kelly's death was fully identified and rectified.

"The offshore industry is an inherently high safety risk environment, the highest in the country and the world, due to the isolated and unstable nature of seagoing work and the 24/7 requirements placed on seafarers," he said.

"The MUA is a relentless and unapologetic advocate for appropriate national safety and welfare programs, including equal time rosters and Employee Assistance Programs."

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