The last thing Gary Sutton expected after his own life-altering road accident was for his son to endure the same thing, two decades later.
In 2000, Gary was transporting a load of sugar out of Harwood, NSW, when his left-hand steer tyre suddenly blew out, causing his truck to roll.
Andrew was just eight when the crash left his father a quadriplegic, but it did not deter him from becoming a driver.
Horrifyingly, Andrew mirrored the fate of his dad 20 years later, when his truck veered down an embankment on the way back to the depot, throwing him from the wreckage.
Now both wheelchair-bound, Gary and “AJ” reflect on the mystery that still surrounds both of their accidents, and the inherent risk many drivers may not consider before getting behind the wheel.
“They’re putting people with so little experience in these [trucks]. They’re not an easy thing to drive and control,” Gary, 58, said. “You can’t put someone through a program for two months – when you’re just talking to them – and expect them to know what they’re doing.”
Both men worked for truck companies at the time of their accidents, clocking lengthy hours on the road, often driving interstate and overnight.
Work-related driving incidents claimed the lives of 17 workers in Victoria last year, according to WorkSafe. This makes up more than a quarter of the state’s total workplace fatality toll for 2022. Transport, postal and warehousing is the state’s deadliest industry.
Most of these workers were truck and delivery drivers, like Gary and AJ, who spent the majority of their working hours inside a vehicle, but it also includes workers from other industries travelling between offices or worksites.
Neither Gary nor AJ know exactly how their accidents occurred – Gary had just received new tyres on his truck before one blew out and AJ can’t remember anything from his incident. They know it has changed their lives immeasurably.
Gary endured multiple major neck surgeries, as well as tendon transplant surgery to help him regain more function in his hands. He spent about nine months in various hospitals following the accident.
AJ woke up alone in the hospital after his crash because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to his sister, Shannara, who spoke on his behalf.
“These can be the repercussions of trucking – you need to know what can happen,” she said. “It can happen in a car, but it’s more likely to happen in a truck.”
Since the beginning of 2019, 64 workers have died as a result of road transport incidents in Victoria. This number doesn’t include people commuting.
WorkSafe executive director of health and safety Narelle Beer said whenever a worker is on the road as part of their role, that vehicle is considered their workplace.
“This means employers must ensure the vehicle being used is safe and without risks to health and that drivers are appropriately licensed and trained, while workers must take reasonable care for their own health and safety.”
Speeding, drugs, alcohol, fatigue and technology use must also be considered, Beer said, as well as planning ahead to account for road conditions.
“For a lot of us, driving a vehicle for work is one of the most dangerous situations we might face in our workday,” Beer said.
“The familiarity of a worker with the vehicle they are driving, the type and condition of the vehicle, what they are carrying, the premises they visit, other drivers, customers or passengers, and physical and mental distractions all impact their ability to drive safely.”
In 2022, at least 486 workers’ claims for compensation were accepted after being injured due to a road vehicle incident during their employment.
Gary and AJ are currently on WorkCover through WorkSafe and require 24-hour care.
“It’s been up and down,” Gary said. “I cope with it pretty well, but it’s just been hard on the kids. I try to be there for them and help them too.”
WorkSafe is determined to reduce road fatalities by making strategic workplace visits and working closely with other road safety stakeholders to enable employers across industries to improve safety outcomes.
They’re calling for employers to ensure regular vehicle checks, rigorous training and consistent reviews of safety systems.
Source: WA Today