A recently completed thesis into occupational health and safety (OHS) and New Zealand’s trucking industry is gaining some media attention. It deserves more, as it identifies many of the structural and cultural barriers to improving health and safety in this important and global industry.
Dr Clare Tedestedt George has looked at the big picture of the trucking industry. Why do people work in it? Why do they stay in it? The delivery pressures that make it almost impossible to satisfy delivery deadlines and maintain one’s health and safety, and the safety of others. George writes that
“The structure is being reinforced by the normalisation of industry practices. As the drivers normalise poor OHSW [occupational health safety and wellbeing], the structure is strengthened, and change becomes more difficult. However, the structure is also strengthened by the reference to the family. Drivers reportedly spent very little time with their actual family – for those that did have one – and the industry therefore became a pseudo family. Their loyalty kept them in the phase of reinforcing the structure, again making change difficult.” (page 240)
George’s thesis provides a fascinating insight into how people become “trapped” in a culture or industry that then exploits that entrapment for the financial benefits of others. She includes an excellent literature review and discussion of the major research into the trucking industry and OHS, as well as the voices of the truck drivers she rode with during her studies.
The thesis identified 5 key themes:
- “The organisation of work in the industry was found to have a detrimental impact on the OHSW of truck drivers in New Zealand.
- … those in management positions faced conflict between profit and their responsibility to the drivers’ OHSW…
- …the role of the employment relationship, which as a discipline, has been largely overlooked in the trucking industry in New Zealand.
- …the industry culture and how norms were found to be a barrier to change.
- how a failure in systems thinking meant previous efforts to improve OHSW have been fragmented and do not consider the complexity of the trucking industry in New Zealand.” (page ii)
George’s thesis provides important evidence which could, and should, improve the health safety and welfare of truck drivers but all evidence requires political support to affect change. Regardless of all the claims of governments using evidence-based decision making, change comes from political influence; evidence has no political influence in itself.