ROAD SAFETY: A Corporate Approach To Road Safety

NTC Discussion Paper


The National Transport Commission has released for discussion in August 2011 a paper titled, “A Corporate Approach to Transport Safety“. In summary the discussion paper explores how the existing corporate commitment to workplace safety can contribute to achieving the National Road Safety Strategy road safety targets, i.e., how can we extend work-place safety obligations to the public road space. An interesting discussion paper given my own experience with Hampton Transport and my own raising of this very issue with Worksafe Western Australia.

As can be seen from the response from Worksafe Western Australia and others Worksafe Western Australia does not believe that workplace safety does not extend to the public space, a curious view in my opinion and one that is at odds with what is being proposed in the National Transport Commission’s discussion paper.

Maybe it is time for Worksafe Western Australia and the Minister for Commerce, Mr Simon O’Brien to re-think their attitude and start putting people first. Placing the responsibility on employers for employees to act in a safe manner on the road can surly only be a good thing for all road users, net alone the more vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

The executive summary of the discussion paper is reproduced below, the full paper can be downloaded here. It includes guidelines on making a submission. Please consider doing so.

A national response to road safety

Over the past four decades, Australia has had a strong record of improving the safety of the road network. Road deaths have fallen by over 60 per cent since 1970 despite substantial increases in population, motor vehicles and travel. Since the 2001 release of the National Road Safety Strategy 2001-2010, annual deaths on Australia’s roads have fallen by 23 per cent (ATC, 2011).

However, road crashes still cause some 1,400 deaths and 32,500 serious injuries in Australia each year. The Australian Transport Council (ATC) has recently released a new National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 with the ambitious objective of further reducing death and serious injury on Australia’s roads by at least 30 per cent over the next decade.

The Strategy sets out the principles that will guide government and community action in achieving this goal, as well as a number of specific actions to be taken by government in areas such as regulation, road improvement, vehicle safety requirements, education, publicity and enforcement. However, it also recognises that improving road safety is a shared responsibility of all parties who use and influence the use of the road network. The vision of the new Strategy – “No person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia’s roads” – recalls the well-established occupational health and safety principle that “no-one should be killed at work”. Acceptance of this principle has coincided with enormous improvements in workplace safety in Australia and around the world. Companies have invested in making their workplaces safer, and many have developed strong internal safety cultures that have contributed not only to better safety, but also to more productive and profitable businesses.

Corporate action on road safety

The influence corporate actions can have on the behaviour and safety of drivers in the heavy vehicle industry has been well recognised and documented in Australia. The Chain of Responsibility rules in the 2003 model bill on heavy vehicle mass, dimension and loading compliance (and subsequent fatigue and speeding laws) established penalties for a range of parties unless they could establish they had taken reasonable steps to ensure that their commercial decisions would not cause drivers to act illegally or unsafely.

A major focus in commercial road safety has been on heavy vehicles, particularly those involved in road freight operations. However, they represent about only one-fifth of serious road crashes, in many of which a significant or causative factor was the actions of other vehicles or road users. Likewise, much effort has been devoted to improving safety in companies that operate large fleets of smaller vehicles – both in terms of vehicle quality and driver training and behaviour. In both cases, industry commitment to better safety has led to the development of accreditation schemes, professional associations for sharing good practice, and organisations devoted to providing safety training and fleet management solutions.

Decisions taken by industry in the normal course of business – and through a corporate safety culture – affect how their employees, customers and suppliers use the road network. This applies not only to companies that own or operate fleets of vehicles, but also to those that generate a demand for transport – whether transport of their products, or their employees, or their customers.

The role of this discussion paper

This Discussion Paper explores how the existing corporate commitment to workplace safety can contribute to achieving the National Road Safety Strategy road safety targets. It sets out examples of how organisations’ workplace safety cultures can be applied to improve the safety of work-related road use. It seeks to identify actions that are entirely within the control of an individual company or group of companies (in an industry sector or along a supply chain) that would improve road safety and benefit their business.

The NTC is seeking information on what private sector organisations can and are willing to do to contribute to meeting the National Road Safety Strategy targets. Companies can identify and act on things entirely within their control that don’t require government or other organisations to act first, that don’t require a change in regulation, and may not require permission or support from anyone outside the organisation that will in some way improve road safety. This has two aspects – the potential to influence the behaviour of others (customers, suppliers, business partners) and the adoption of measures to improve safety within their own organisations. Such actions clearly need to benefit the business and be sustainable in the long term. Companies’ road safety achievements need to be recognised and preferred by customers and employees. Tools are required to help companies to integrate, implement and promote behaviours that will improve road safety throughout their organisations and, through their policies and practices, within their spheres of influence.

The NTC would like to open a conversation with corporate Australia about what is possible, and how such possibilities can be turned into positive, sustainable actions. We do not believe in a single, one-size-fits-all approach to engaging business, or to shifting obligations that rightly belong with government onto the private sector. We want to work with businesses and organisations to exert a strong influence over the way that the road network is used to benefit their businesses and make life safer for all Australian road users.

Key questions to which we are seeking answers include:

  • How can the corporate influence on transport use by customers, employees and suppliers be applied to improve safety outcomes?
  • What sort of institutional or governance arrangements will be necessary to effectively harness this influence?
  • What needs to be done to ensure that any national scheme has credibility and delivers genuine safety benefits?

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