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Fatigue: Talk listen and act

18 June 2019

Talking about driver fatigue is still very much a taboo subject but it starting to be taken more seriously by an increasing number of fleet operators. Unfortunately, this is a subject that sits on the periphery of managing road risk for a lot of fleet operators.

The main problem is that 79%* of drivers do not believe their employer understands the dangers of driving while fatigued and 65%* of drivers do not believe their employer would listen if they complained about suffering from fatigue.

This is quite shocking given that 83%* of drivers admit to driving while fatigued and more than 50%* of drivers admit to fighting fatigue and continue driving to complete their journeys.

Therefore, fleet operators need to embed a culture of ‘It’s good to talk’ to encourage their drivers to open up and be honest about the condition they suffer with. However, more importantly employers and fleet operators need to ‘listen and act’ upon what their drivers are telling them.

In order to manage driver fatigue effectively, fleet operators need to understand what it is and its cause. Unfortunately, there are a number of questions that need answering to understand it and without listening to what their drivers say, then fleet operators will have great difficulty putting into place the correct monitoring systems, processes and procedures.   

Therefore, the questions that need answering are: 

What is fatigue? It is not a specific medical condition but a symptom of numerous conditions that cause a state of impairment that can include physical and/or mental elements. 

How does fatigue manifest itself? It can be acute and accumulate after a short period on a demanding task or it can be cumulative and build up over successive shifts or long periods of intense pressure.  

What are the results of fatigue? Fatigue is associated with lower alertness and reduced performance, thereby making individuals less able to self-assess how impaired they are as they become more fatigued. Ultimately, making the individual unfit to drive. 

Now the above questions have been answered, the next question to ask is: 

What actually is driver fatigue? It is a driver who becomes tired due to driving long hours, long distances and/or monotonous journeys. This could be due to poor journey planning with no account for rest breaks, poor time management with unrealistic appointments/delivery slots, desensitisation on regular routes, just wanting to get the job done and get home and a lack of contingency planning for when things go wrong.

However, under no circumstances should anyone be mistaken that the above are the only causes of driver fatigue. A driver can suffer with fatigue even without driving due to external personal and/or vocational circumstances, thereby they are unfit to drive even before driving.  

Fatigue could be identified if a driver shows any of the following telltale signs: Mood changes, communication difficulties, difficulty concentrating, easily distracted, reduced attention, decreased vigilance, difficulty processing information, reduced short-term memory, slowed performance, increased errors, reduced physical strength, ‘Tunnel vision’ or microsleeps.

Fleet operators need to implement robust measures to identify, educate and support their drivers. There are numerous processes and procedures that they can implement to manage driver fatigue effectively to counteract the aforementioned issues. These measures should be detailed in a specific Managing Driver Fatigue policy. 

More importantly, employers and employees need to have better engagement and channels of communication with self-reporting being encouraged. It is vitally important to realise that everyone is different and react in different ways, so do not ignore or dismiss what a driver says as just moaning about the job. 

Therefore, make sure that all employees are made aware that it is good to talk about fatigue but it is more important that employers listen and act upon what their drivers tell them. Failure to listen and act now could be catastrophic for the fleet operator, the driver, their family and other roads users and their families. 

* Source – Fatigue Management International

Author: Andrew Drewary FCILT MAIRSO AMRSGB
Road Safety Consultant - Road Safety Smart