There is always a lot of talk in the trucking industry about fatigue and safety, but how serious are we about the subject? Everyone who acts as a spokesperson for road transport will repeat the same mantra about safety being the number one priority and how flouting the fatigue rules is unacceptable.
It’s all very well to write a mission statement which states the business will be run to make a profit, but not at the expense of the safety of employees and the general public. This is not going to bring about any kind of culture change. Drivers are still going to be pushed too hard and stretch their limits in terms of fatigue. Luckily enough for the rest of us, the driver is more than likely going to make it OK and everyone will get home safe.
Instead, we have developed a culture of compliance. This is fair enough, to work hard to ensure the operation runs completely within all of the myriad regulations which are aimed at the trucking industry. The most important thing is, to ensure you have covered your backside, there will be no comebacks and the paperwork looks good enough to audit.
Is this enough? Yes, it’s enough to be compliant and avoid prosecution. Whether this is enough to be in the best interest of ALL of the people involved in the supply chain, is another matter. A lot of people working in the trucking industry are pushing it too far and are in danger of doing long term damage to themselves and to others.
I know, from my own experience, the way to survive in road transport is to learn to live with a lot of fatigue. No matter how you cut it, the way most truck drivers work is leaving them in permanent sleep debt. At the same time, they are also good professionals and know how to do their best to ensure their fatigue doesn’t result in an accident or injury.
Just walk around and read the names at the memorial in Tarcutta. These were probably all pretty good drivers who acted professionally and just happened to get unlucky. I am also willing to bet, all of them were also suffering some of the health effects of prolonged fatigue.
A document put out this week by the National Road Safety Partnership Program goes through the issues which can affect those who do not get enough sleep.
“Whether we choose to take notice or not, we all know the importance of exercise and good nutrition to our health,” says internationally renowned expert Dr Carmel Harrington in the report. “The third pillar of strong physical and mental wellbeing is sleep.
“Sleep is critically important to short and long term health. In the short term, inadequate sleep increases your chances of succumbing to illness, such as flu infections. In the long term, it increases the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity and can shorten life expectancy.
“As well as being linked to poor mental health and depression and affecting our mood, lack of sleep also has a potentially serious impact on safety. People with poor sleep are between two and seven times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident, with around one in five accidents attributable to fatigue and daytime sleepiness.”
Does any of this description sound familiar. A big chunk of the driver demographic could be covered by the description, ‘illness, such as flu infections… chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. poor mental health and depression’. Add on things like sleep apnoea and we have the truck population covered.
The report goes on to run through the ways to ensure a healthy lifestyle unaffected by the problems associated with fatigue. Run through them with a selection of truckies at a truck stop and you would be unlikely to get them agree they could be compatible with their current working practices.
Meanwhile, we get the constant discussion of how to get people to work in our industry, the drastic driver shortage continues. Perhaps young people are saying no to trucking because, if they do another job, it will be compatible with a healthy lifestyle. If they go into trucking, it certainly will not.
The trucking industry can keep going the way it is, with increasing pressures on unhealthy drivers or it can grasp the nettle and look at the way we work to come up with a solution which is genuinely compatible with a healthy lifestyle. Not just a way of working, which is compliant.