Key industry focus for 2017

Strategic thinking is vital for the trucking industry to prosper, and two of the most important focuses for this thinking are for the mental and physical wellbeing of trucking industry members, as well as preparing for technological changes.

As Chair of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), one of my personal priorities is focusing on the health issues affecting our industry and the community, most notably sleep apnoea and, sadly, suicide.

Drivers with sleep apnoea are two to seven times more likely to have accidents, but the questionnaire used in truck driver medicals only picks up about 12 per cent of cases.

The questionnaire asks drivers to consider eight situations and mark down their chance of dozing off.

The results are subjective and inconsistent, as people get used to having broken sleep, and all of us tend to assume that our medical symptoms will go away, if only we could get through to the holidays.

It took four years, but the ATA had a major win in 2016 when we convinced the National Transport Commission (NTC) to amend the truck driver medical standards.

They now include a warning to doctors not to rely on the questionnaire when deciding if someone might have sleep apnoea.

It’s a start, but we need to do more.

Unlike the truck driver medical standards, the rail standards include a highly effective, objective screening test for sleep apnoea.

Mental health and suicide must also be vital concerns for every business, industry association and our whole community.

It is a national emergency.

Suicide is the major cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44 – more people die from suicide than in road crashes.

As a network of associations, we need to take action, because we cover a business sector that employs more than 160,000 Australians.

The ATA will take action on suicide through a new partnership with Lifeline.

We will join with business associations across the board to argue for government policies to prevent suicide. It’s a new area of lobbying for the ATA, but we are up to the task.

We will provide our association network with suicide prevention material for their members to use in toolbox talks.

We will encourage business leaders across our industry to become involved in local suicide prevention initiatives.

Throughout 2017, we will be talking to our members and sponsors about the details of what we can all do to address this national crisis.

A revised focus on the mental and physical wellbeing of members of the trucking industry is not the only priority for the ATA in 2017.

New technologies are disrupting every industry, including ours. Augmented reality. Big data. Cloud computing. Increased and varied automation.

As businesses – and as an industry – we need to be ready for these challenges or we will struggle to catch up, like what has happened with the taxi industry.

However, we need to recognise that even the companies developing the technologies don’t know how they’ll work out.

When Steve Jobs and Apple first launched the iPhone in 2007, its true significance was missed.

The audience at the launch loved the idea of a widescreen iPod with touch controls, they cheered when they were told the new device would make phone calls, but they were puzzled when they were told it was an internet communicator. The audience could not predict the revolution the iPhone would create.

It has been reported that Apple’s original intention was to create an iPod that makes phone calls – and even Apple did not foresee the App Store becoming a billion-dollar business full of billion-dollar businesses.

We can’t predict how technology will change and the amazing things that people will do with it. Ultimately, what’s important is not trying to predict the future or focus on introducing a particular form of technology.

Instead, we must argue for policies which deliver a safe industry and better roads, and enable our people to have the right skills to handle the changes of the future.

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