Many industries rely on trucks and heavy vehicles to transport and freight product across work sites, cities, states and the country. Because of this extensive prevalence of truck-related occupations, workers in almost every sector and industry need to be aware of the hazards these heavy vehicles can present.

Unfortunately, a significant number of individuals are involved in truck-related incidents each year, with close to 80 workers killed annually while working in or around a truck, according to Safe Work Australia.

In a report released on May 20, Safe Work Australia identified a number of key areas that need to be addressed in order to improve the health and safety of employees and the public. These include:

  • Improving maintenance and use of brakes
  • Increasing spacial awareness and recognition of nearby pedestrian workers and public
  • Adopting methods to reduce risk of falls from heights
  • Ensuring cargo is securely restrained during transit, loading and unloading

"By targeting these areas we can improve the working environment for truck drivers, people who work in the vicinity of trucks and the general public," said Safe Work Australia Chairperson Ann Sherry.

"Improving a business's work health and safety is critical, it increases productivity and more Australian's get home safely every day because of it."

Due to the significant risk of heavy vehicles, industries that involve extensive use of trucks are often considered the most dangerous in terms of accident, injury of death. For instance, in the latest year-to-date fatality statistics from Safe Work Australia, almost 30 workers had suffered a fatal accident in the transport, postal and warehousing industry as of May 29.

This is by far the most deaths recorded in any industry in Australia, followed by agriculture, forestry and fishing on 17 deaths.

To address these troubling statistics, employers should be taking any reasonable precautions – such as ensuring all workers understand the risks of working in or around trucks. By offering staff extensive traffic management training, employers can benefit from the increased knowledge of heavy vehicle hazards and effective traffic control plans around the workplace.

Initiatives to improve truck safety

Over the past few years, truck-related deaths have dropped by close to half (48 per cent), according to Safe Work Australia. However, the fatality rates within the road freight transport industry are still approximately 10 times higher than all other industries.

Additionally, the number of injuries per 1,000 workers in the transport and storage industry (86) is 25 per cent higher than the rate for all other Australian workers.

In an effort to reduce these figures, a number of initiatives have been launched across the country. For employers in particular, the National Road Commission has put in motion reviews into the Chain of Responsibility obligations and penalties under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

Chain of Responsibility

Released on February 10 this year, the HVNL lays out specific requirements relating to the protection of occupational health and safety (OHS) when working in or around trucks.

Overall, the law states that if you consign, pack, load or receive goods as part of the undertakings of your business, you could be liable for any road transport law breaches, including accidents and injuries.

This means that if you hold control or influence over any transport task, you are responsible to ensure drivers, pedestrian workers and the public are protected. Breaches to safe work regulations and requirements could result in significant fines and penalties.

Due to this responsibility, it is recommended that – as an employer – you ensure all employees are adequately trained in traffic management. This will mitigate the risk of an uninformed or untrained individual making an error that results in employer liability.

State-focussed traffic plans

In addition to the National Road Commission's review, various state governments and industry bodies have partnered to improve road and transport safety.

For instance, SafeWork SA is currently performing audits on all local transport operators to ensure compliance in relation to fall prevention requirements. In particular, the OHS body has focused on reducing the risk of falling from truck-trailers and cabins while loading and unloading heavy vehicles.

Furthermore, Work Health and Safety (WHS) Queensland is working to minimise work-related accidents, injuries and deaths in the road freight sector through its Queensland Road Freight Industry Action Plan 2014-17.

As part of this blueprint, WHS Queensland is conducting fall prevention and load restraint inspections across the state and offering training and workshops to workers and industry stakeholders. On June 18 this year, Queensland workers are invited to attend a traffic management forum to learn more about OHS best practices in the freight and transport industry.

Onsite traffic management systems are also a key focus in a targeted project currently being designed by WorkCover NSW. Once launched, the program will address OHS issues in any business involved in truck-related operations. The key factors being targeted are onsite traffic management systems, loading of trucks and getting out of trucks, return to work and injury management, and driver wellness.

Improving truck safety onsite

If your business undertakings involve significant use of trucks or other heavy vehicles, it pays to understand the specific hazards you and your employees may face.

For instance, the loading and unloading of product from trucks poses several significant risks for employees. These include falling from height, engulfment by shifting material, being struck by a vehicle if brakes are not correctly applied and crush injuries caused by falling or settling products or equipment.

Once trucks are on the move within your site, the risk of an accident or injury extends to any pedestrian workers, or those operating a smaller vehicle nearby.

An important consideration when identifying the risks to workers on your site is to address the areas where vehicles and machinery are required to share the same areas and roadways as pedestrians. Additionally, where vehicles are required to stop to load and unload can pose significant issues, due to obstructed views, potential brake failure and the risk of product falling from the trailer.

Once you have identified and assessed these hazards, an effective traffic management plan should be put in place to reduce or remove the risks.

Controlling OHS outcomes can be as simple as separating pedestrians from vehicles on your site. This is possible through the development of independent pedestrian walkways, removed from roadways by barriers, guardrails or elevated platforms.

Furthermore, designated loading and unloading zones should be clearly marked and kept well away from where workers may be travelling. Due to the significant risk of dropped product or failed breaks, stationary trucks should be kept on flat surfaces whenever possible.

Protecting those workers that need to climb onto truck-trailers or cabins during this process may require a more complex solution, such as the integration of fall arrest systems and offering employees working at heights training.

Overall, each hazard in the traffic management sector can be effectively controlled through adequate communication and training. To improve the health and safety of your truck operators or pedestrian workers, consider investing in traffic management training.

For more information, contact the team at AlertForce today.

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