Worker road safety driving blind
In NSW alone an estimated 650,000 light vehicles are being used for work yet none are included in official compensation injury figures, according to LaTrobe University researcher Dr Ruth Stuckey. So how can policy be shaped without this data?
“If you look at the basic premises for OHS, the duty of care of an employer is to provide a safe workplace. But as soon as you step out on the road, they just don’t count the vehicle as a workplace,” the School of Occupational Therapy lecturer told OHS Professional.
While heavy vehicle accidents in Australia are well reported by workers compensation authorities, Stuckey said there is a major deficiency in light vehicle work-related accident data, and it’s preventing the development of policy to address the risk.
“The problem with work-related accidents that happen on the road is that they get investigated by the road safety people, and therefore the workers compensation people ignore them,” said Stuckey.
“If they are not counted in the data you are never going to have the evidence to change policy.”
In an effort to discover the extent of road accidents that remain outside the scope of work safety, in 2005 Stuckey turned to the NSW Road and Transport Authority (RTA), which is the only agency that asks car registrants to identify if their vehicle will substantively be used for work purposes.
She found that in 2003/04 there were 646, 201 vehicles registered in NSW under this category. With approximately 4 million vehicles registered in NSW, according to RTA figures for this period, just over 15 per cent of the state’s entire traffic could be work- related, but is at present overlooked.
In NSW alone, this meant that workers compensation data excluded 13,491 crashes that involved cars or vehicles under 4.5 tonnes that were most likely being used for work. Thirty-four of these (or one per cent) resulted in fatalities.
To put that in perspective, Safe Work Australia’s latest report (“Work-related traumatic injury fatalities, Australia 2006-07) put total “road crash fatalities” for that period at 81, most of which came from the heavy-vehicle dominated transport and storage sector.
Stuckey also found 37 per cent of the vehicles were being driven by sole traders, which meant there were 239,000 workers in NSW that would not be covered by workers compensation in an accident. As she explained, only limited liability companies are eligible to be covered by state workers’ compensation schemes.
But it is her third finding which reveals where better data could assist the formulation of better policy: fifty per cent of work vehicles were utility vehicles or vans, typically chosen for their load capacity .
“Why this is important is that load vehicles tend to be less safe. Even with recently registered vehicles, if you look at load vehicles or vans or utes, you find that they don’t have anything more than a driver airbag, and that their safety rating tends to be three or below. Whereas if you look at cars, most of them are four to five star rating now,” she said.
Indeed, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) March 2010 report gives just 11 out of 29 rated utility vehicles a four star rating, while just one has five.
“So you have this real discrepancy between what’s used for work and what’s used for recreation. And what you find is that when employers buy cars for workers they tend to be safe, whereas if they buy vans they tend to be unsafe. Their design is around load capacity, not around safety for the driver.”