Transport Workers Union South Coast and Southern Sub-branch senior official Lee Lawler said more than 300 people in the transport industry died on Australia's roads each year.
"If it was to happen in any other industry there would be absolute outrage," Mr Lawler said.
"If the CFMEU said 'We had 300 construction workers die this year', there'd be massive inquiries.
"The industry would be looked at and overhauled and measures put into place. People just seem to accept the fact that deaths on the roads are part and parcel of what happens."
He said the high number of deaths of truck drivers was largely because they were on the road so often.
"For these transport workers, the road is their office, that's where they spend their day.
"Statistically, when you're spending eight, 10 or 14 hours a day on the road, you are more likely to be in a situation where you are affected by the actions of other road users."
As well as the risk of death, there was a range of other pressures on truckies, which Mr Lawler said was caused by the way the industry was structured.
"It's a hyper-competitive industry, the drivers have low bargaining power in relation to being able to negotiate rates. They tend to just have to tender and undercut each other, which causes a race to the bottom, or they're offered a rate and they have to decide if they can do the job for that rate.
"We have incentive-based payments - per kilometre or per trip - so time is money. They're the sort things that add to the pressures for drivers to do that extra load, take those extra hours.
"When they start doing that those fatigue-related issues begin to come into it.
"It really is the nature of the industry that forces these drivers to behave in the way they do."
The TWU's Safe Rates initiative aims to improve the situation.
The union had been pushing for it for 20 years, and last month it was enshrined in legislation and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was formed.
"What it's designed to do is set rates of pay where people don't have to work excessive hours," Mr Lawler said. "They don't have to overload their vehicles to make extra money. The whole idea of the Safe Rates campaign and the tribunal is to set a level playing field. You don't have transport workers undercutting each other to get work, then having to find ways to take short cuts to perform that work to still make a profit."
Mr Lawler said it would improve the lot of truckies, many of whom were reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution.
"It's a very real threat because ... there's a huge inequality of bargaining power between the people who own the contracts and the people who perform the work," he said.
"If they do speak out in relation to terms and conditions, they do just tend to get sacked and the company knows there are plenty of other trucks out there that can do the work."