Running on empty

14 Feb, 2019
Dr Clare Tedestedt George at graduation

Dangerous practices in the New Zealand trucking industry are symptoms of much deeper issues, says new research from the Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Business School.

Fatigue, speeding, infringements, and driver error are serious issues of concern but unless a more holistic approach to solving these problems is taken then it is unlikely changes will be seen, says Dr Clare Tedestedt George.

“This is not an individual workers problem, it’s not a migrant problem, it’s a labour standards problem. Targeting efforts at the individual will inevitably deplete resources with seemingly little payback. We need to ask why are they so fatigued, why are they speeding in the first place?”

Issues such as the competitive nature of the industry, the normalisation of dangerous practices, pay rates and pay structures, as well as the use of [dependent] contractors are all factors necessary to consider when addressing these symptoms.

Drivers, who are owner-operators, take on not only the financial risk but also the responsibility for ensuring healthy and safe work practices.

“In many cases they can’t afford to operate safely if it means reduced income. Short term goals about financially keeping their head above water have to come before longer-term health goals,” Tedestedt George says.

Employed drivers described a more positive experience compared to owner-operators, but across the industry below-par conditions are tolerated and written off as normal, creating barriers to change.

“Those that cannot handle it leave, and those that can, survive. It’s a survivor population but one that eventually dies young,” she says.

Ensuring drivers are safe and healthy is a responsibility shared among a number of different agencies, but efforts are not keeping drivers free from harm.

“A failure in systems thinking has meant that efforts are fragmented and ineffective, therefore not easily translated into working environments.”

Read more about Dr Tedestedt George’s research on The Spinoff.

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