Sitting at the ALC Safety Summit this week demonstrated to me a disconnect going on in the road transport industry. As with many problems in the trucking industry today, the core of the issue is communication, the message isn’t getting all the way down the chain.
The event in Sydney had the big end of town, Woolies, Toll, Linfox, Bluescope, Scotts etc. talking about the commendable codes of conduct the Australian Logistics Council have developed over the years. These people are genuine enthusiasts for the safety message and work hard to drive the safety culture into their organisations and out into their contractors. Systems have been set up and safety is a major priority in their business.
Almost concurrently, I am on the phone to a mate who is out their on the coal face, at the front end of a B-double. This week he has come a cross three different drivers who are being unreasonably pushed by their direct bosses and can see safety being compromised.
Shuttle drivers given exactly five hours to get to a changeover, which would be five hours away on a good day are always under the pump. It only takes one unaware caravanner, on a stretch of road with no overtaking lanes, to get the truckie behind schedule.
At this point, the words of the manager back at base, to get there within five hours, or else, comes in their mind. Now, they get just a bit closer to the car/caravan/truck in front, start pushing to overtake where they shouldn’t and thinking more about the schedule than the safety of themselves and those on the road around them.
They can’t help it. Road works appear, slow loads hit the highway and stuff just goes wrong. Every minute lost cranks the tension in the back of the neck higher and the probability of an accident occurring rises.
I myself have been in this situation and felt the pressure rise. I have, embarrassingly, found myself taking risks which would be unacceptable if the schedule had a bit of slack built in for unforeseen problems.
The person running compliance at the HQ of the consignor/transporter/consignee has put all of the procedures in place, but this kind of thing keeps on happening, no-one is exempt. In a discussion at the Safety Summit, a delegate who handles training at the driver level pointed out how the strong safety culture at the top does not necessarily translate to the same culture at the loading dock.
There is so much work put into creating a safety culture in trucking businesses, but the message is not getting to some areas. Of course, this is a process and over time the situation is going to improve, there will be more trickle down over time.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of people out there who are just paying lip service to the safety message. Every time a driver or someone working at a depot sees unfair pressure being put on a driver, which could result in increased risk, the whole safety culture campaign is undermined.
The answer? Communication, communication, communication, to the point where nobody working in the industry is any doubt we are serious about safety.