Monash study finds truck driving among Australia’s most dangerous jobs
A landmark 12-year study into the health and wellbeing of Australia’s truck drivers has revealed that they have a 13 fold higher risk of dying at work than other Australian workers, making it among the most dangerous occupations in the country. The study will be launched today (21/8) in Canberra.
The Monash University led Driving Health Study also found that more than 120,000 claims for work-related injury and disease were lodged by drivers over the study period. Only 17% of these claims came from vehicle crashes, with the rest caused by physical and psychological stress, falls, slips and trips and other causes. Over the 12 year period, the claims added up to more than one million lost weeks of work.
According to Professor Alex Collie, from the Monash School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, who led the research, truck driving is among the unhealthiest jobs in Australia. “Truck driving is a job with many health risks” he said. “It has long working hours, lots of sitting, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control, all in addition to the risk of road crashes”.
Truck driving is the most common occupation in male Australians, employing one in every thirty‑three male workers in the nation, or approximately 200,000 drivers either for hire or in private fleets. And the industry is growing. The demand for on road freight is expected to double from 2010 to 2030. Combined with an aging driving workforce, the report calls for an overhaul of the way that truck driver health is monitored and encouraged.
According to Professor Collie and his co-author, Dr Ross Iles, previous large Australian studies of truck driver health have focused almost exclusively on safety outcomes such as crashes, near misses, fatalities and traumatic injury. “These studies also typically focus their attention on specific causes of those outcomes, including fatigue/shift work and regulatory/ commercial models,” Professor Collie said.
The Monash University study, done in partnership with Linfox and the Transport Workers Union, takes a more holistic approach, according to Dr Iles, “to identify opportunities to improve health and wellbeing amongst truck drivers, this study seeks to characterize the nature of injury and disease more broadly. We are looking beyond road crashes and into things like mental health conditions, back pain and hearing loss which are all areas of major concern in truck drivers”.
“Truck drivers are a vital part of the Australian economy, and this is the first step towards getting a complete picture of their health and wellbeing. Our next steps are to find out from drivers themselves how best to tackle to the health problems they face, and then to work with industry to develop programs to improve health”, he said.
“Everyone deserves to get home healthy and safely. Since 2009, Linfox has reduced its rate of injury (LTIFR) by 90% but there is more to be done. This study forms part of our ongoing work to develop proactive strategies that empower our people to look after themselves and each other. We’re proud to support Monash University to build a clearer picture of driver health ,” said Linfox General Manager Human Resources Lauren Pemberton.
This report, the second from the Driving Health Study, used a unique national database of more than 4.5 million workers compensation claims, made across all industries in Australia, from 2004-2015.
The study found that:
- A total of twenty‑four geographic areas had more than twice the average rate of work‑related injury and disease in truck drivers. These areas were typically on the outskirts of major cities and on the border between Victoria and New South Wales, reflecting major trucking routes.
- The average age of truck drivers with accepted workers’ compensation claims was 44.5 years.
- The largest group of claims were from the 35 to 54 years age group, accounting for nearly sixty percent of all claims.
- The oldest age group of 65+ years recorded the smallest percentage of total claims (2.7%) but were at the highest risk of injury and disease, and recorded median time loss durations much longer than younger drivers.
- The older drivers also had a statistically significantly higher rate of neurological conditions compared with the other age groups, suggestive of noise induced hearing loss from prolonged exposure to noisy working environments.
- Generally, musculoskeletal injury was the most common type of injury for all truck drivers, accounting for approximately 60 percent of all accepted claims. The median duration of time off work following a musculoskeletal injury was 5.2 weeks.
- In contrast, mental health accounted for a small proportion of accepted claims but the median duration was much longer at 10.3 weeks.
- There were 545 compensated work‑related fatal injury claims in truck drivers in the 12‑year time series, representing 15.1% of all compensated fatal claims across all occupations in Australia during the study period.
- Truck drivers had a 13 fold higher risk of fatal injury than other workers, and more than three quarters of fatalities in truck drivers were due to vehicle crashes. In contrast vehicle crashes accounted for less than 17% of the burden of injury and disease when measured as weeks lost from work. Other mechanisms including body stressing, falls slips and trips were responsible for a much greater portion of the non‑fatal burden.
According to Dr Iles, the findings of the report support the continued focus on road safety research to reduce the number of fatalities and traumatic injuries in truck drivers, “but also highlights the need for greater preventative effort to improve health, reduce the burden of chronic disease and musculoskeletal conditions, as well as a focus on rehabilitation and effective treatment of drivers to reduce morbidity.”
He added that the findings provide further insight into some specific health conditions in some sub‑groups of drivers (for example neurological conditions in older drivers) and identify the geographic regions in which preventive and rehabilitation interventions are most likely to have a positive impact. “Understanding the health and wellbeing of people employed in the transport industry is critical to ensuring the most effective and efficient allocation of resources to prevention and rehabilitation efforts”.
SNAPSHOT OF STUDY:
- There were 120,742 accepted compensation claims for work-related injury and illness in truck drivers between 2004 and 2015.
- These injuries and diseases resulted in the loss of 1,071,230 weeks of working time, or a total of 22,317 years of productive working time loss.
- There were 545 compensated fatalities among truck drivers over this 12 year time period. Truck drivers had a 13 fold higher risk of dying at work than other Australian workers. More than three quarters of work-related deaths in truck drivers were due to vehicle crashes.
- Vehicle crashes accounted for 17% of the total working time lost to injury and disease in truck drivers. The remaining 83% arose from injury and disease caused by musculoskeletal and psychological stress, falls, slips and trips and other causes.
- Drivers over 65 years were at the highest risk of work-related injury and disease, and took much longer off work than younger drivers when injured.
- The most common type of injury in truck drivers was musculoskeletal injury (such as back pain). Drivers with these injuries took 5 weeks off work.
- Mental health conditions were less common, but drivers with such conditions took more than 10 weeks off work.
- Twenty-four suburbs, towns and regional areas on the outskirts of major cities, and on the border between Victoria and New South Wales, recorded more than twice the average rate of work‑related injury and disease in truck drivers.