Five years, 524 truckies killed
A $55,000 fine imposed on a transport operator whose driver was incinerated on the Pacific Highway in NSW has sparked calls for Workcover to go after the "Mr Bigs" of road transport. The Transport Workers' Union's (TWU) Scott Connelly said 524 people had died in NSW truck accidents since 37-year-old, Darri Haines, was killed in a 1999 fireball, after bodgeying logbooks and consuming methamphetamines in a bid to meet schedules. "This is a step in the right direction", Connelly said. "But Workcover needs to go after the clients if it is serious about road safety. "It's the Woolworths, Coles and BHPs — the clients — who set the schedules and drive the pricing structures. "Under the current OH&S regime their behaviour can be addressed but, despite 524 deaths in five years, it has never been done. "The clients are the root of the problem and their behaviour has to be addressed if we are going to make our roads safer for everybody." Mr Connelly said Industrial Relations Commission vice president Michael Walton's decision was a "landmark ruling" because it established that highways were workplaces for OH&S purposes. It also gives Workcover access to rosters, log books and records, allowing them to write prohibition notices before accidents occur. The decision appears to determine that, under NSW OH&S legislation, risk of fatigue is enough to warrant Workcover action. Commissioner Walton found long-haul driver Haynes had been making deliveries, up and down the NSW coast, fuelled by methamphetamines, because he was afraid he would lose his job if he didn't meet schedules set by his employer, Jim Hitchcock. He found Hitchcock guilty of failing to provide safe conditions for his employee, after hearing Haynes had clocked up 5400 kilometres in the week before his death. Hitchcock's company, Sayogi Pty Ltd, "paid very little, if any, heed to the risk, either to its employed drivers or to anyone else at risk of an accident", Commissioner Walton said. He found "fatigue" was a primary cause of the accident and said Hitchcock's company had "provided incentives" for drivers to increase their hours behind the wheel. "The company pressured its drivers to meet delivery deadlines resulting in breaches of the logbook. Drivers risked their jobs or incomes if they failed to comply." Commissioner Connelly said such fines could drive small operators out of the industry but, in all likelihood, their contracts would be picked up by other operators on similarly unrealistic terms and conditions. According to TWU figures, 77 people have died in NSW truck accidents so far this year. Long hours and unrealistic deadlines are only part of the picture. Shonky diesel fuel is another killer.