I’m trying to untangle the fatigue issues which are plaguing our industry. 70 hours a week is an unusually long working week, and 14 hours is certainly a long working day, but what of the laws that are supposed to prevent drivers from nodding off behind the wheel and creating those graphic headlines of another truck hanging over another bank? Because surely, if they are following the laws, they are safe right?

I’ve got a few scenarios that have got me thinking:

1. Recently I trialled one of the new electronic log books during a 2 day road trip visiting clients. My day is varied; driving, meetings, phone calls and emails, then some more driving, but the 5.5 hour watershed came and went and I hadn’t taken a bona fida 30 minute break. At the point it was due, I hadn’t eaten for 6 hours and felt I needed to press on to take a break somewhere where I could find food. Healthy food would be nice, but some form of food was a real necessity. Even then, it was a 20 minute grab and go stop, not the truck driver requisite 30 minute minimum, to ensure I was on time for my next appointment.

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2. A customer reported a big smash in his fleet was due to the driver falling asleep behind the wheel. The log book was clean and was an accurate record of the driver’s work day so far. But, before reporting for work, the driver had driven 4 hours in his personal vehicle, returning from a night with his new girlfriend and her young children who don’t sleep through the night.

3. A dairy farmer friend of mine supplements his income by working for the local contracting company. He will work with the crew, often shifting loads of silage in a tractor and trailer, but he won’t do the journey in a truck because he can’t make the log book work. Dairy farming is a 7 day a week 0430 start job which is not consistent with the log book rules.

4. Office workers are encouraged to stand up and move around for a few minutes every hour. Most don’t bother and there is no penalty for failing to ensure that they do (except the future threat of back pain).

All of the scenarios above are real. All are legal in so far as the work time rule is concerned, but all are marginal when it comes to the proactive management of fatigue.

About 5 years ago, I had a conversation with a fleet owner who knew he had an issue with log book compliance in his fleet. He was looking forward to electronic log books to flush out the problems and improve compliance.

But, electronic log books don’t force you to take breaks. They don’t conjure up a large layby with clean toilets and healthy food when your break is due. They don’t stop people having long distance relationships outside of work, and they don’t teach anyone to drive any better.

There is no question that we need guidelines which promote the management of fatigue. There is no “one size fits all.” That’s why there is the option of filing an alternative fatigue management plan with NZTA – so you can look at your operation and design a safe system of work for your staff. Not many companies have taken advantage of this. Perhaps now is the time to take another look at it and make it part of a discussion with your staff about when and where they would like to take their breaks, and how they manage their time outside of work to support a better outcome for everyone.

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