Transportation Troubles: Addressing H&S Training Gaps in the Transport Industry

24 April, 2024  |  News

New Zealand's transport sector employs around 108,000 people, roughly 4% of the national workforce. Ensuring that each of these kiwis comes home from work safely each day is paramount; however, recent incidents have highlighted alarming gaps in health and safety (H&S) training, leading to avoidable accidents. 

Targeted training strategies can enhance the safety of transport workers and prevent further incidents in which inadequate training contributes to workplace mishaps.


Real Life Incidents

Examining how insufficient health and safety (H&S) training has contributed to specific real-world workplace incidents gives us an idea of the importance of rectifying these gaps.


Improper Traffic Management

Improper traffic management led to the death of a worker, and a Southland company being fined more than half a million dollars. In June 2023, McLellan Freight was found guilty of health and safety failures after one of its drivers was killed when standing behind his truck during a warehouse loading process. The man was struck by another driver reversing a front-end loader. A WorkSafe investigation found McLellan Freight should have had a more effective system in place for traffic management and failed to consult with the other trucking firms it worked with to manage the risks. It went on to say that "too much emphasis was placed on workers being vigilant, as opposed to businesses managing risks by preventing dangerous situations for workers".

It stated several measures would have reduced the risk of harm, including having a dedicated spotter to help guide the driver at all times; using a reversing camera on the loader, proximity sensors and blue light indicators on vehicles as appropriate; and a stop line or safety cone so drivers know exactly where to stop.


Inadequate Vehicle Maintenance Training

Inadequate training on vehicle maintenance and checklist procedures led to the death of a father of two in Canterbury. The man was killed when his van was struck by a trailer that had detached from a work vehicle. A WorkSafe investigation found the locking handle on the trailer wasn't engaged, and the trailer's safety chain wasn't connected to the vehicle, concluding that "inadequate information, training, instruction, supervision, and experience" caused the man's death.

Dr Catherine Gardner from WorkSafe went on to say "It's not enough to just have your workers sign a vehicle policy. Businesses need to ensure drivers are competent to safely use a vehicle."


Driver Fatigue Causes Fatal Collision

The death of a Napier chef, whose car drove into the path of a logging truck, was blamed on fatigue. The man had been working two jobs and is believed to have fallen asleep whilst driving to one of the jobs.

The Coroner said urgent action was needed to reduce fatigue-related crashes, with Waka Kotahi noting that multiple deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand roads were related to driver fatigue.

Following the incident, the man's employer had added a fatigue module to its staff training and regular fatigue-related notifications and reminders were sent to staff electronically.


Training Gaps Analysis

Common threads among these incidents include lack of awareness, inadequate training protocols, and insufficient supervision - deficiencies that have proven to have grave consequences.

For instance, when too much emphasis is placed solely on workers' vigilance, rather than proactive risk management by businesses, dangerous situations can arise. Without robust protocols in place, incidents such as collisions or injuries become more likely. A lack of supervision exacerbates these risks, as workers may not receive the guidance and oversight necessary to navigate hazardous conditions safely.

The transport industry poses unique challenges, from navigating heavy machinery to managing complex traffic systems. Generic training programs often fall short of adequately preparing workers for the specific hazards they may encounter. Tailoring H&S training to address the intricacies of the transport industry is crucial for mitigating risks effectively. This approach should encompass not only the technical skills required for operating vehicles but also strategies for anticipating and managing potential dangers on the road or within transportation facilities. 

Comprehensive H&S training initiatives allow businesses to empower transport workers with the knowledge and skills needed to uphold safety standards and prevent avoidable incidents.


Targeted Training Strategies

In response to identified training gaps and the urgent need for comprehensive health and safety measures, targeted training strategies are essential for workplace safety in the transport industry. These strategies focus on specific challenges such as fatigue management, hazardous materials handling, vehicle maintenance, and safety culture promotion. These approaches can significantly improve safety protocols and reduce workplace incidents. 


Fatigue Management Programs

Educating drivers on the dangers of drowsy driving and providing techniques to combat fatigue can significantly reduce the risk of fatigue-related accidents, safeguarding both drivers and other road users.


Specialised Hazardous Materials Training

Offering specialised modules on the safe handling and transportation of hazardous materials, along with emergency response procedures, is crucial for ensuring the safety of both workers and the public, minimising the potential for environmental harm and personal injury.


Vehicle Maintenance and Inspection Refresher Courses

Introducing refresher courses on vehicle maintenance and inspection helps ensure compliance with safety regulations. It promotes proactive maintenance practices, thereby enhancing the reliability and safety of transportation equipment.


Utilising Simulation and Virtual Reality Technologies

Simulation and virtual reality technologies provide realistic training scenarios without exposing participants to actual safety hazards, enhancing learning outcomes and retention while minimising risks associated with hands-on training.


Promoting Safety Awareness

Nurturing a culture of safety awareness through regular toolbox talks, safety briefings, and peer-to-peer mentoring initiatives encourages proactive risk management. It reinforces safety protocols, empowering employees to contribute actively to a safer working environment.


Regulatory Compliance

Transport companies in New Zealand are legally obligated to uphold stringent health and safety standards for their employees, as stipulated by the Health and Safety at Work Act. This legislation mandates that employers must provide comprehensive training to their staff, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to work safely and mitigate risks effectively. Specifically applied to the transport industry, this training ensures that workers are adept at handling the unique challenges and hazards they encounter on the job, ranging from navigating busy roadways to operating particular vehicles to managing the transportation of hazardous materials.

Non-compliance with these legal obligations carries severe consequences for transport companies. Beyond the immediate risks to employee safety, failing to provide adequate health and safety training can result in significant financial penalties, legal liabilities, and reputational damage. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 states that if an employer recklessly does something that exposes their workers or others to the risk of death, severe injury or serious illness, they can be jailed for up to five years or fined up to $600,000, or both if they're an individual. If the employer is a company, they can be fined up to $3 million.

Facing legal action or compensation claims due to workplace accidents or injuries can damage the company's reputation within the industry and among the general public. Prioritising regulatory compliance and investing in comprehensive H&S training is not just a legal requirement; it is crucial to employee well-being and protecting the long-term viability of companies within the sector.


Addressing the health and safety (H&S) training gaps within the New Zealand transport sector helps protect the safety and welfare of workers and the broader community. Through a proactive approach that involves learning from past incidents and implementing targeted training strategies, organisations can mitigate risks, improve safety standards, and cultivate a culture of vigilance and responsibility. 

Impac offers tailored H&S training solutions designed to address the specific challenges of the transport sector and ensure compliance with regulatory mandates. Prioritising safety and collaboration leads the industry towards improved practices and paves the way for a better future for all stakeholders.


Disclaimer: The examples provided in this editorial are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. +IMPAC has not been directly involved in any of the situations described.