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DOWN UNDER TRUCKING: mining truck smash; opioid truckers; tax hikes; DHL carbon neutrality

DOWN UNDER TRUCKING is FreightWaves’ weekly collection of stories from the big land Down Under. This week: doctors stuff injured truckers full of opioids. Some truckers remain high volume consumers of opioids for up to 2.5 years after their injury. Also: key tech and data development areas for Australia’s supply chain; Prime Minister’s funding splurge on infrastructure; careless truck driver accidentally crushes his own vehicle; trucking industry and unions vow to fight trucking tax hike and win… sort of. Meanwhile, DHL Supply Chain has vowed to achieve carbon neutrality through offset programs.

Truckers dosed up on opioids

Injured and ill truck drivers in Australia are overwhelmingly prescribed opioid painkillers, more so than for other types of working-driver and workers generally, a major research study has found.

Researchers from Monash University examined five years of injured-worker data from Australia’s “workers’ compensation” program, which is a type of insurance that all employers have to purchase by law to fund workers in the event that they suffer a work-related illness or injury.

A total of just under 44,500 workers’ compensation claims were taken into consideration by the study and that breaks down into 6,682 claims from truck drivers, 4,155 claims from “other” drivers and 33,658 from everyone else.

About 21% of all truck drivers (1,604 people) who claimed workers’ compensation payments received payments for medically prescribed drugs. The same percentage of all injured truck drivers were prescribed painkillers.

The researchers also looked at truck driver “lost time” (i.e. time off work) claims, which was a slightly smaller number. There were 5,667 lost time claims by truck drivers and in 1,351 of those claims (24%) truckers were prescribed an opioid. About 469 (30%) were prescribed weak opioids, such as codeine, and 882 were prescribed “strong” opioids such as methadone, morphine, fentanyl and others.

Previous academic studies had shown that in Australia, just as it is in the U.S., the most common type of truck driver injury relates to the human muscle-skeleton system. Typical problems will include chronic back and neck pain, increasingly fragile bones (osteoporosis), or inflammation and stiffness of the joints (arthritis). In Australia about 60% of all truckers’ accepted workers’ compensation claims related to musculoskeletal problems.

About 70% of all the opioids prescribed were for musculoskeletal issues. Another 12.4% were for fractures and a further 14% were for “other” trauma.

Use of opioids peaked at about 13 weeks after a trucker made a claim but, in some cases, opioid usage by injured truckers continued for hundreds of days, up to about 2.5 years from the date of claim. Most of the injured, opioid-using truckers, about 931 people, used a small amount of opioids (two prescriptions) for a short time. A smaller, but still large number of truckers, about 346 people, used low volumes of opioids (15 prescriptions) over a long period and their usage declined over time. A small number of injured truckers used high numbers of opioids (47 prescriptions) over a long time and their usage remained high throughout the research period.

Commenting on the study, the researchers noted some factors particular to injured truck drivers that might explain the higher use of prescription medicines. For instance, truckers in Australia sustain more fractures and traumatic injuries than other workers and they account for a higher proportion of surgeries that are carried out.

Researchers also noted that guidelines from medical associations recommend against long-term use of opioids for treating pain that is unrelated to cancer.

“The prolonged prescribing pattern of opioids identified in our trajectory group model warrants attention. Lower levels of return to work were reported in previous studies of injured workers using opioids. One possible explanation for this is that more severe injuries would be treated with opioids, thereby case severity may account for the persistence of work loss. Injured truck drivers who take opioids are at risk of developing addiction, which may result in a longer claim duration and delayed return to work… Therefore, opioid prescription may be a way to identify drivers at risk of longer time away from work. In addition, while short-term opioid therapy can provide pain relief for truck drivers after work-related injury, careful consideration must also be given to the benefits of opioid therapies and risks of addiction development, abuse, or other potential side effects,” the researchers commented.

Key development areas for Australia’s supply chain

A logistics industry conference has identified nine key areas in which Australia needs to proactively embrace technology so as to develop business, manage performance and control safety risks. The 2019 Supply Chain Technology & Data Summit by the Australian Logistics Council, which represents the interests of the very large logistics corporations, was held in Melbourne this week.

Firstly, the industry needs to agree a single data standard to help interoperability between different types of data collection. Rapid information sharing is “critical” to optimizing supply chain performance.

Use of global data standards in everyday operations by companies in the supply chain is necessary to enhance visibility, the conference concluded, particularly once freight leaves a seaport.

Industry needs to adopt a proactive rather than a reactive approach to technology and data sharing, especially where technology can be deployed to boost the quality of safety training and in-vehicle telematics can be used to prevent incidents. However, industry needs to overcome its “reluctance” to engage in data sharing by “ensuring there is a rigorous framework in place that protects privacy and commerciality of data.”

Industry could use the review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, which is already underway, to pursue mandatory collection of data from in-vehicle telematics.

There must be a demonstration of the commercial benefits of supply chain technology more clearly to reduce administrative costs and “red-tape.” Allied to that development point, the ALC conference also concluded that there must be a “more sophisticated understanding” both by industry players and also by policy makers about the “operational, safety, environmental and commercial benefits of electric vehicle (EV) and autonomous vehicle technology.” The conference called on governments to help drive a switch to electric vehicles “as a last-mile delivery solution” by providing concessions on various taxes, duties and charges.

The freight industry must understand what it wants to achieve by adopting technologies such as blockchain.

Finally, the conference called for a boost in the quality of vocational training.

Prime Minister turns on the money tap for infrastructure investment

Following repeated calls by such bodies as Australia’s central bank to stimulate the national economy and calls by Infrastructure Australia to invest to maintain the national standard of living, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, has announced a plan to fast-track infrastructure projects.

Among the announcements made by the Prime Minister is an A$1.9 billion road and rail funding package for the northern state of Queensland. The Federal Government will bring forward A$650 million in funding and will add more than A$680 in new funding. Meanwhile, the state government will cough up A$606 million too.

Four major highways and the North Coast Rail Line will be upgraded along with a variety of roads around the state. Highways will benefit from new interchanges and a light rail line will be expanded. The Port of Brisbane has welcomed the announcement of funding to make a rail connection to the port.

Meanwhile, over in Western Australia, extra funding of A$235 million a year for the next four years has been allocated to a series of road projects to reduce congestion and improve public safety. Funding has also been allocated to the Perth Metronet – a passenger light rail system. Road projects will include road widening and intersection upgrades at a variety of locations around the state.

In the state of New South Wales, about A$530 million of Federal funding has been brought forward. This includes an upgrade to NSW-Queensland inter-state roads, the creation of a bypass at the town of Parkes, and another in the Milton-Ulladulla area. Interchanges and a bridge building project will also be undertaken.

Down south in the state of Victoria, a few hundred million has been brought forward to help build the North East Link project and an extra $184 million has been found to fund the immediate start to construction on the Monash Freeway Upgrade.

Truck driver accidentally crushes his own car with giant mining truck

The driver of a giant ore-hauling mining truck accidentally crushed his own vehicle, it has been widely reported across the Australian media.

Because of the size and weight of the mining vehicle, the passenger vehicle was utterly crushed.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the driver was carrying out maintenance on the mining truck when he ran over his own car.

No one was hurt in the accident.

Trucking industry and unions vow to fight trucking tax hikes

Only one thing can get trucking operators and unions to vow to fight together (rather than against each other) and that’s the prospect of fighting politicians who are planning to hike trucking taxes.

It appears that the Australian transport advisor, the National Transport Commission, has advised that an 11.4% hike in national heavy vehicle charges was necessary to recover the heavy vehicle share of recent road construction and maintenance costs.

These costs and charges have “essentially been frozen since 2014,” according to an official statement from the Transport Infrastructure Council, which is the name given to the Federal, State and Territory Government Ministers, along with the office-holder of the Australian Local Government Association, when they all meet to decide national transport policy.

Trucking industry representatives and the Transport Workers Union were not impressed with the National Transport Commission’s advice.

Former Australian Trucking Association chairman David Simon, former Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters’ Association President Kevin Keenan, Queensland Trucking Association CEO Gary Mahon and Victorian Transport Association CEO Peter Anderson briefed government  ministers immediately prior to the Transport Infrastructure Council meeting.

“Volumes are down, and operators are competing on price for lower volumes to get some contribution to fixed costs. All this, and ministers are talking about an increase in costs at a time when industry is still overpaying by about $189 million per year. I also reminded the Australian Government ministers of the Coalition’s election and budget commitment to no new or increased taxes, which was reinforced by the Prime Minister at a Business Council of Australia function just this week,” Simon commented.

Meanwhile, VTA’s Anderson said, “We raised the lack of productivity improvements, additional increased costs such as tolls, tighter access to the road system and the fact that regional Australians will be grossly disadvantaged should the road user charge on fuel be increased by greater than the current transport index of 0.8%.”

Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union went directly to the people with a petition calling for the transport ministers to reject the proposed increase.

“This proposed tax hike shows just how out of touch [the Prime Minister] Scott Morrison is when it comes to the transport industry if he thinks there is money to be made from truck operators and drivers whose margins are already pushed to the brink. The Prime Minister is blatantly ignoring the crisis in his country’s deadliest industry by attempting to add even more financial pressure to the lower end of supply chains while ignoring the deadly squeeze caused by those at the top… The pressure on drivers and operators to cut corners in safety will only be exacerbated if these tax increases go ahead. Hundreds of transport workers and road users have put their name to a petition calling on Transport Ministers to reject this tax, we urge them to listen,” said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.

Late yesterday evening, The Transport Infrastructure Council issued a statement that it was “very mindful” of the challenges faced by the transport industry.

It opted for charges to rise by 2.5% in 2020-2021 and by another 2.5% in 2021-2022.

DHL Supply Chain Australia opts for carbon neutrality

Contract logistics provider DHL Supply Chain yesterday (November 22) announced that it will support carbon offsetting projects for the next three years “in partnership” with airline Qantas.

“All of DHL Supply Chain’s warehousing and road transport operations have offset over 25,000 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2018, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of almost 3,000 homes in Australia,” the company said in a statement.

“The Qantas Future Planet program is a fantastic platform that enables us to reach some of Australia’s most vulnerable habitats and impacted communities. By contributing to these efforts, we are on track to meet our long-term goal of completely reducing all logistics-related emissions to net-zero by 2050,” said Saul Resnick, CEO, DHL Supply Chain Australia & New Zealand.

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