Any changes to the fatigue rules and enforcement will need a good deal of flexibility built into the system if the aim is getting fatigue management right. There is a lot which works under the current regime and there is a lot which does not.
The National Transport Commission has pointed out those shortcomings. These include the fact that the rules do not prevent drivers from driving while fatigued. The management of risk is not part of the current system, which the report reckons is complex, highly prescriptive and hard to understand.
It also identifies the fact that fatigue management is a fast developing field and we understand the issues a lot more than we did twenty years ago, when the current regime was devised. The rules don’t have the kind of flexibility to deal with differing fatigue profiles and freight tasks.
Other options available to operators who want to properly manage the fatigue within their operation, are expected to be offered, in a much more risk-based approach to the whole issue. The process is likely to have a lot of give-and-take built in.
Not only will internal processes within fleets to minimise fatigue risk be taken into account, but also the kind of fatigue monitoring technology fitted into the vehicle will also be included in the equation. Essentially, the system is most likely to play out in a way that the more effort and technology the operator puts into fatigue management, the more flexible a fatigue regime it can work under.
This approach, if designed correctly, should be able to satisfy both ends of the spectrum and, hopefully, most operations in between. The system should enable trucking to move from a rigid and difficult system to administer to one which can be customised to suit most purposes.
The well-established owner driver with a small number of long term customers and some set runs, who has to run the business from the cabin and is already fully loaded with paperwork, could well just opt to the 12 hours a day work diary recording option. It is simple to manage and the driver can organise the work to keep within the guidelines.
Those tasks where hour by hour productivity is king and every kilometre and minute needs to be wrung out to maximise profitability of the vehicle, will be different. Driver training, testing and evaluation may well lead to forms of accreditation which increase the kind of hours flexibility needed to run a tight ship.
Alternatively, new technology, which is clearly getting better year-on-year can also be fitted within the truck and also give operator the kind of risk minimising procedures to allow more flexible hours regimes.
Enforcing Safer Fatigue Management
One of the factors which should enable the kind of flexibility those who are looking for smarter working practices, to get the kind of concessions they are looking for, is the attitude taken by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. As the new regulator has grown it has developed an approach to these kinds of issue which is generally more inclusive and adaptable.
If the new Heavy Vehicle National Law gives the NHVR what it is asking for there will be an opportunity for operators to negotiate with the regulator exactly how fatigue is managed and offer the NHVR the kind or assurances, through processes or technology, to make the regulator more comfortable about allowing concessions and an increase in flexibility in the rules. This is one of the proposals from the NTC.
The feedback from the original issues papers published last year saw smaller operations generally preferring a clear cut prescriptive type of arrangement. However, there is also support for a way of changing the emphasis in fatigue management where the important factor is risk minimisation and not the counting of working time.
The larger operators were interested in being able to develop processes where compliance is managed though accreditation and auditing and not roadside enforcement. Some of them want to devise bespoke systems to meet the risk reduction guidelines while freeing up the drivers from strict hours regulations.
Within the broad spread of options, for those who will still depend on log book and counting, the NTC says it is well aware of the issues in lack of flexibility and there seems to be an overall understanding that the prescriptive rules can lead to unnecessarily large penalties for what are often low risk offences.