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Fatigue management in the transportation industry

Published: July 10, 2018

Long-distance trips can be very challenging, testing the limits of endurance for drivers who regularly spend numerous days on the road. If the accumulated fatigue becomes too great, there is a heightened risk of serious accidents, which is why physical and mental state of such workers must be monitored very carefully. It is in the best interest of employers in the transportation sector to ensure their key personnel have optimal work conditions and enough rest to maintain vigilance at all times, since this greatly reduces liabilities and improves safety standards.

However, fatigue management is a topic that rarely has a central place on the company agenda, frequently being overshadowed by more pressing concerns. This summary of its main principles can serve as a useful reminder for all employers in this sector:

 

Meeting the safety regulations

A primary concern of all transportation providers in Australia that operate heavy vehicles on a regular basis should be to meet the legal obligations set forth by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). This regulatory body proscribes mandatory number of hours for each vehicle category, and requires providers to keep a detailed record of work and rest hours. Failure to comply with the legislation may result in serious fines or even a suspension of the license, effectively threatening to put repeat offenders out of business. Fatigue management exceptions may be available in certain situations, so it’s highly recommended to study the rules in depth and find out which terms apply to specific forms of transport.

 

Acute versus long term fatigue

There are different types of physical and psychological stress that can lead to visible fatigue signs and a diminished ability to react to sudden events in traffic. Obviously, drivers who are on the road for long periods continuously are highly susceptible to fatigue, but even those who recently had enough time to rest could be vulnerable if they have been subjected to chronic overwork with little opportunity to recover mentally and emotionally. Supervisors and others in the Chain of Responsibility need to be able to recognize early signs of fatigue like inability to concentrate or more frequent minor errors and immediately notify drivers about the hazards of operating large vehicles at less than 100% of focus.

 

Using advanced fatigue management tools

Fatigue management can be assisted by electronic tools that simplify hours tracking and allow centralized control. Electronic Work Diary (EWR) is an excellent example of such tools, and it is officially endorsed by the NHVR, although its use is voluntary at this stage. This device can replace a handwritten diary and make the administrative side easier to handle, while at the same time facilitating more accurate record keeping. Transportation companies can greatly benefit from the easily available data by conducting statistical analysis and identifying potential weaknesses in the current business model, as well as by evaluating which protective measures were most effective for fatigue prevention.

 

Educating transportation workers about real danger

Ultimately, at-risk workers should be at the centre of any fatigue management strategy. They are the ones making critical decisions in distant locations and they must be trained to recognize dangerous situations. Sometimes, pressure to deliver on time can push inexperienced drivers to skip mandatory breaks, so managers need to communicate very clearly that safety comes before any other concern. Peer education is just as important, as veteran employees are in the best position to give practical advice, especially on routes they know well. It takes a team effort to ensure that fatigue doesn’t become a threat, but people on the front lines deserve special attention throughout the process.

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