Pressure of customer expectations affecting truck driver safety

Thursday, 30 August, 2012

A ‘master-slave’ relationship between trucking companies and retail supply chains is foiling efforts to improve safety in an industry involved in nearly 200 fatal crashes last year, reveals a recent Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study.

QUT conducted a study of more than 70 truck drivers, employers, depot managers, receivers, schedulers, consignors and government transport groups. Despite regulations and efforts to improve safety, the truck driving industry continued to have one of the highest rates of fatal injuries, said lead researcher Dr Angela Wallace, from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q) at QUT.

Dr Wallace said there continued to be strong pressure on truck drivers to deliver goods as quickly as possible, often at the expense of safety. “The perception that the ‘customer is king’ was widely viewed, with the majority of stakeholders believing that there exists a master-slave mentality in the industry.

“There is great frustration in the industry as to the apparent immunity of customers, particularly retail supply chains, to their responsibilities.”

Dr Wallace said smaller trucking companies were perceived to be more vulnerable to the pressure of customer expectations. The study found remuneration-related incentives, pressures and practices had historically put the balance of power upstream in the supply chain and truck drivers felt pressured to cut corners on safety. Trucking industry interviewees called on transport departments to enforce breaches of chain of responsibility laws.

A new national Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal that began in July was hoped to reduce pressure on truck drivers to meet unrealistic deadlines, said Dr Wallace. “Knowingly or unknowingly, the activities of customers, consignors, agents and suppliers have a major influence on drivers’ fatigue levels, overloading, load restraint and speeding, all of which affect safety,” she said.

The study, called Safety culture in supply chains: Customer is King, will be presented at the inaugural International Conference on Occupational Safety in Transport, hosted by CARRS-Q from 20 to 21 September on the Gold Coast.

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