10 August 2021 posted by Recovery Partners

Transport industry risk factors include fatigue, musculoskeletal disorders and extreme stress. Truck drivers have high rates of work-related injury and illness compared to other Australian workers, while bus drivers are prone to verbal abuse and physical abuse.

It can all take a toll on the drivers who keep this country running.

Naomi Frauenfelder, CEO of Healthy Head in Trucks & Sheds understands the risk factors within the transport industry all too well. Speaking at the Recovery Partners Industry in Focus – Transport webinar, Naomi explained some of the risks and stressors.  “Australian truck drivers are faced with a unique set of mental health risk factors including long hours, shift work, fatigue, and social isolation, to name a few. There are also many cases where truck drivers are first responders to accidents…. Meaning a greater chance of exposure to traumatic events.”

As a community, we need to understand and change these risks.

Fatigue

Driver fatigue in the transport industry is a potentially significant risk.

The main causes of driver fatigue are not getting enough sleep, driving at times when you are normally asleep like at night or early in the morning, and being awake for a long period of time. In fact, being awake for 17 hours impacts your ability to drive at the same rate as a blood alcohol level of 0.05 BAC. Driver reactions can be 50% slower at this level of fatigue, a serious issue with some trucks weighing 40 ton or more. Negative impacts on driver ability increases the longer a driver stays awake.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has laws in place for fatigue management on a range of heavy vehicles. There are strict rules around the amount of driving a person can conduct in one day and the rest times between shifts. These form part of the Chain of Responsibility law.

Tracking driving activities can be done manually through paper-based logbooks or electronically through journey management systems built into vehicles. Some vehicles even have technology that monitors a driver’s eye movement to detect drowsy activity like long blinks and saccades – rapid eye movement between focus points.

Some interstate heavy vehicles have a section behind the driver with a sleeping area: a bed, lamp, and curtain which drivers can use at truck stops on major roads. Other heavy vehicle companies have a rest area on site, similar to a small motor inn that drivers can utilise after a long shift.

It is important for heavy vehicle drivers to monitor their fatigue levels, take rest breaks seriously and apply risk controls available through their employer for their own health and safety.

Musculoskeletal disorders

The transport industry has some of the highest numbers of work-related injury in Australia, with an average of 6,407 claims per year. A significant number of these injuries relate to musculoskeletal disease (MSD): the types of injuries that occur from prolonged exposure to MSD risk factors such as manual handling – loading trucks, hitching trailers – and ergonomics – driving a heavy vehicle with large numbers of gear changes and static driver seating position over several hours of the working day.

In a recent work health and safety survey with a major national transport company ~20% of drivers detailed that they experienced MSD related pain ‘often’. Current control of MSD risk is often procedure related and can be difficult to implement given the constant change in delivery locations and activities.

Recovery Partners was engaged by Lindsay Australia to combat MSD in their fleet of 800 drivers. Learn how Recovery Partners is helping Lindsay to reduce MSDs in heavy vehicle drivers.

Stress Management

Driving a heavy vehicle can be a difficult task – manoeuvring a 30 metre long, 40-tonne truck through multilane roads and across huge distances requires skill and competency.

While stress is a part of any job, heavy vehicle drivers are around 7% more likely to face a health problem due to stress, according to the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads ’Heavy Vehicle Action Strategy 2019-2021’.

Time demands, long hours alone on the road and load specifics like handling dangerous goods all contributes to a driver’s stress levels. Transport for NSW states that drivers experiencing stress at work or home are five times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident. Truck accidents are inherently more severe due to their size, weight, and handling abilities.

The need to support and invest in the transport industry has been recognised by many studies, including the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. The Safety Strategy identifies transport (road freight and road passenger) as a priority industry to implement WHS and mental health prevention activities. Building resilience in truck drivers and bus divers alike is extremely important. There is prevention, protection and support available.

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/