Sometimes we are told to not rock the boat, to let sleeping dogs lie, especially on the subject of fatigue and its connected issues in Australia. When addressing the problem, there are two very large elephants in the room we need to acknowledge and also take into account.
For some, fatigue is a problem in the trucking industry and one which must be addressed seriously. For others, fatigue regulations are an issue which must be addressed immediately. Then there are all of the other interest groups with their own barrel to push and they can use the fatigue issue to do so.
The two elephants in the room are our history and our geography. These two cannot be denied and are central to all of the ongoing battles we are having over fatigue.
A large proportion of the people working in the trucking industry are over 55, approaching 50 per cent. This means we started our careers in an industry in which fatigue laws were ineffective and ignored. There were rules in place, but enforcement was almost non-existent and log book fraud was the norm. Multiple log books were easy to access and a simple solution for the driver looking to drive where they wanted, when they wanted.
The culture into which we were introduced was unregulated and breaking the law was regarded as just a part of doing business and also a prerequisite for getting employment. This gave rise to two effects. New recruits had to learn how to break the rules to get the job done and the industry was more attractive to those who like to break the rules. Hence a bit of an outlaw culture existed then and still has its echoes in the industry today.
At the same time, and despite the efforts of a number of yard drivers who seem to be trying to shift their warehouse when slamming into the dock, the major cities in Australia are a long way apart. They are not going to get any closer.
The major centres are a shift, two shifts or, in the case of Perth, three plus apart. The roads are getting better, but the speed limit remains at 100 km/h with little likelihood of rising. Add the usual hassles with loading, unloading and paperwork to the equation and the kind of hours regime we now have in place is just doable, for many.
Now, all we have to do is mix these two factors together and we get a workforce brought up in disregard for the rules mixed with the demands of a modern economy wanting goods moved from capital A to capital B. The outcome is the situation we have today.
Truck drivers have been pushing the envelope of fatigue and how to cope with it for generations and there is a core level of knowledge about doing the right thing, recognising fatigue and resting when tired. To get this to work effectively, and it does for many, the prescriptive rules disrupt the natural rhythms the drivers have come to rely upon. These were developed by drivers trying to survive while being pushed way too hard by operators and their customers.
Perhaps the trucking industry should take a good hard look at itself and decide whether it wants to be part of the solution or not. At root, this is a cultural issue and they are the hardest to shift. You just have to look at the problems of the major footie codes, created by young men with lots of money and access to drink, drugs and women. They are throwing lots of money at it, but the problems continue.
For trucking, we first have to acknowledge the culture and then decide how to change it. Then we have to ensure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.