Ground-breaking program saves truckies lives

Sunday, 01 February, 2004

Up to 26 lives may have been saved on Victorian roads in the past 12 months through a ground-breaking program examining the link between driver health and truck accidents, Workcover Minister Rob Hulls announced today.

Hulls told Australia's largest transport, freight and logistics industry trade show — Freight Solutions 2003 — the $750,000 Health Break program, funded by WorkSafe Victoria and the TAC, was saving lives.

"Through the program, Victorian truck and bus drivers are offered a free health assessment to identify their risk of diabetes, sleep and heart problems," Hulls said.

"Interim program results show that between March and May this year, 582 drivers had their health assessed and 26 of the most serious cases were referred for urgent assessment for severe hypertension — or high blood pressure.

"These people were candidates for heart attacks or strokes — a fact unknown to them until they made the decision to take part in this safety program. "Given the nature of the industry, these problems can create a time-bomb for the drivers themselves and for other road users."

Health Break targets driver health and aims to prevent workplace injury, vehicle accidents and illness among truck and bus drivers and other transport workers.

The number of fatal truck accidents rose 37% in the four years to 2002. "The number of Victorians killed in these accidents rose by 43% to 93 in 2002. The number of serious truck crashes also increased by 42% to 507 in the same period, with the number of people injured also rising by 40% to 726," he said. While not all three accidents were caused by poor driver health, WorkSafe Victoria data confirms a tight link between driver health and occupational health and safety in the transport industry.

"According to WorkSafe statistics, 30% of fatalities in the industry are caused by heart disease, while fatigue is the main reason behind 50% of vehicle accidents," Mr Hulls said. Transport workers suffering from fatigue are three times more likely to be injured or killed at work. For those suffering from sleep apnoea, that risk is seven times greater. By the end of the Health Break program in 2005, 15,000 drivers will have had their health assessed to identify and treat sleep disorders, heart disease and diabetes.

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