In an industry first, and featured on our video of the week, groups of smart, young, outside-the-box thinkers got together in Canberra to try hacking at the fatigue problem.
If there has been one problem with the way the trucking industry – and those organisations responsible for regulating it – has thought about fatigue, it is the lack of new ideas. Each iteration of new fatigue rules or safety regulation is basically another variation of the same theme.
This inevitably leads to circular debates about the pros and cons of a particular rule, or a particular way of monitoring or controlling fatigue. We have seen them all before. The fatigue experts will tell us the industry is indulging in dangerous practices and the long haul industry, especially in country areas, will call for more flexibility.
At the same time as these back and forth debates have been going on, the conditions for the trucking industry’s front line, the drivers, cause increasing difficulty in keeping a handle on fatigue in a practical way.
The improvement in highways, like the Hume and the much more efficient supply chains the big customers have been developing make just about every load time sensitive. The time pressures on the driver increase annually and no amount of pre-trip flight planning will take the nagging pressure off the person behind the wheel.
Out on the highways, these drivers are living with this increasing pressure whilst support services dwindle. The traditional roadhouse at regular intervals on the major highways is just about extinct. Viable parking places with facilities where a driver can take time out, get fed, get cleaned and chill out are getting further and further apart.
All of these aspects of life on the road are working against the stated aims of both regulators and industry representatives to improve safety and reduce fatigue related issues.
So if the traditional solutions to an ongoing problem don’t work, what do you do? Think outside the square is what you do. This is what the Australian Trucking Association decided to organise as part of the annual Trucking Australia 2018 event in Canberra.
The Fatigue Hack
Spread out over two days, the Fatigue Hack was part of a new trend of competitive brainstorming. Small teams from all over the country come together to compete in a curated competition where the problem to be solved is laid out before them and they have to come up with a solution or idea in a set time, in this case two days.
Developed as a hack by the Canberra Innovation Network and their CEO, Petr Adamek, the Fatigue Hack began at nine sharp on the first morning with the teams getting their initial briefing on the process. Then there was some data on the background to the issue with industry identities trying to fill the gaps in the competing teams’ knowledge.
Also on-hand were a team from Canberra Innovation Network who could facilitate discussions and give guidance to the rules of the competition as well as a large team from Teletrac Navman, who sponsored of the event.
One of the speakers giving the teams the heads up on the way the issue looks from the point of view of a driver and small fleet operator was Graeme Nicholson. After 35 years in the industry and eight million kilometres, Graeme now runs a small fleet of eight B-doubles plus two painted subbies out of Maclean in Northern New South Wales with his wife, under the name of Nicholson and Page Transport. Most of the time the tautliners are hauling goods between the major capital cities on the East Coast.
“I’ve experienced fatigue and at times it can be horrendous,” said Graeme. “It hits you so hard that things happen. You think you’re going alright then all of sudden, you’re dead tired. I have seen logs on the road, pulled up the truck and then realised there was nothing there. Sometimes I have come home on a Saturday, sat in my chair and just gone to sleep right there. It affects people differently but it does hit you hard. People don’t realise. They think they’re supermen and push through it, but you can’t push on.
“Recently after a big few days, I was unloading in Brisbane Markets and was unloaded by 10pm. I had to be off the road by midnight. I drove around in Brisbane for one and a half hours trying to find somewhere to pull up with a B-double and go to bed. There were no facilities anywhere for me to do that. This gets brushed under the carpet.
“The rules build pressure on a driver and it continues on for the rest of the week. We need a pressure release valve in there somewhere, we need to go and release the pressure on the driver. Somewhere down the track the pressure will keep building and they will go to sleep. We need a system where if a driver is tired he can just pull up and have a sleep for a few hours and then get going.”