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Estimating the hazards of work and fatigue in the road transport industry

Arnold, Pauline (1999) Estimating the hazards of work and fatigue in the road transport industry. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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There is nationwide concern within government and industry bodies about fatigue related road crashes in the road transport industry. Estimation of the size of the problem from crash statistics is difficult. However, with evidence that long distance truck drivers in many countries work extraordinarily long hours and a considerable body of knowledge about the effects of both night work and restriction of sleep, it seems probable that fatigue is a common experience for long distance truck drivers.

In this study of fatigue in the road transport industry, 638 drivers operating on long distance routes in Western Australia were interviewed at roadhouses as they obtained meals and refuelled their vehicles. Representatives of 84 companies engaged in long distance transport operations were interviewed on company premises. The study examined working conditions and management practices in the Western Australian industry, which operates in an environment where hours of service regulations are not enforced. One of the aims was to estimate the proportion of drivers and companies that would be affected by the implementation of proposed national hours of service regulations.

More than one third of drivers drove in excess of the proposed 14 hour daily limit; when non-driving duties were added, half exceeded the proposed 14 hour limit. One in six drove in excess of the proposed 72 hour weekly limit of driving; when non-driving work was added, nearly one third of drivers exceeded the weekly limit. Small proportions of drivers worked well in excess of these limits, provoking concern that they did not obtain adequate sleep. Nearly 30% of all drivers had obtained less than 6 hours sleep before or on at least one working day in the prior week, and one in twenty reported a working day in which they obtained no sleep. Measures of sleep were predictors of hazardous events on the current journey, and nodding off and near misses while driving over the nine months prior to the survey.

Though many drivers worked long hours, only one in ten drivers reported they frequently experienced fatigue during journeys, and three in ten said it was sometimes a problem. Long hours of non-driving work per day and being unable to stop for rest as needed were the best predictors of self-reported fatigue. Drivers identified driving long hours, activities to do with loading or unloading, overly tight delivery schedules, lack of sleep and driving between 2a.m. and 5a.m. as the main causes of their fatigue. Drivers’ and companies’ perceptions about the causes of fatigue differed. Companies thought lack of sleep was the most important cause of their drivers’ fatigue. These differing perceptions are attributed to different experiences of fatigue and business perspectives.

Though more than half of the drivers reported that fatigue was never or rarely a problem, 99% reported that they engaged countermeasures to help them manage it. The major countermeasures were pulling over when tired, drinking caffeine beverages, and getting a good night’s sleep before departure. One in six drivers reported that they have used drugs to cope with fatigue. One third of drivers were satisfied with their own and their companies’ efforts to manage their fatigue while driving. Other drivers wanted to do less loading and unloading, and to plan and control their own schedule. Responses provided by both drivers and companies as to why desired countermeasures are not used suggested many are dissatisfied with the countermeasures currently available to them, but accept the status quo because “it’s the nature of the industry”.

Almost half of the companies indicated that their current efforts to manage their drivers’ fatigue were adequate. Amongst the companies who said they should do more, the most frequent suggestion was to provide drivers with education about fatigue. Only small proportions of the companies identified interventions that required the company to change its operations. Many companies said drivers should regulate their own driving hours, take adequate rest breaks and maintain adequate levels of health and fitness. The disparity between drivers’ and companies’ views about causes and effective countermeasures will need to be resolved for, unless there is agreement on what factors need controlling and how it should be done, effective management will be hard to achieve.

Few companies reported having a formal fatigue management plan or policy. Yet many companies engaged in practices appropriate to the management of fatigue. Such practices were not universal, however, and it was evident that some companies engaged in practices that might contribute to drivers’ fatigue. More than half of the companies restricted hours’ of driving, though less than one third restricted hours to 14 or less. Half of the companies restricted weekly driving but less than half set limits of 70 hours or less. So, many of the companies would be in breach of the proposed national hours of service regulations. Other strategies (such as the use of crewing and rostering systems best suited for fatigue management, driver selection, education of operational and managerial employees and monitoring drivers’ fitness to drive) were not or poorly applied in some companies.

Both drivers and companies rated fatigue to be a more frequent problem for other drivers than for themselves or their employees. These patterns of responses are consistent with an overly positive self assessment of abilities and levels of risk compared to others, the illusion of having greater control over the situation compared to others, and trip by trip rather than global estimates of risk. The belief that fatigue is a problem for other industry participants but rarely a personal or own company problem is likely to encourage companies and drivers to pass responsibility for fatigue management to other participants in the industry, rather than acting themselves to resolve the problem.

Many drivers and companies thought the industry should regulate itself especially with regard to trip scheduling (rather than regulation being imposed by Government), and provide fatigue education. Many thought the Government had no role to play in fatigue management in the industry. Other responses contrasted two Government roles - provision of infrastructure and enforcement of industry regulations and traffic law. Both groups suggested that Government should extend or improve infrastructure, while relieving industry participants of some charges and taxes. Some drivers and companies suggested more vigorous regulation of and enforcement in the industry. Others wanted Government to loosen industry regulations and industry-specific traffic laws.

A critique of the study is offered, including discussion of the problems arising from self-report data and field study methods. However, the merits of field studies are argued because they provided a richly textured account of the experiences and opinions of industry participants. Such information allows change agents to focus on the problems as they are recognised and construed by the industry, and identify barriers to change.

It is clear that reorganisation of work is needed in the long distance road transport industry to curtail overly long work periods. Because sleep cannot be mandated, drivers must be given the opportunity to obtain adequate sleep and be informed of the benefits of doing so. The success of providing for sleep will depend upon drivers’ and companies’ appreciation of its importance. These results suggest both drivers and companies do not adequately consider missed sleep as an important factor in fatigue causation. Effective fatigue management requires attention to all causes of fatigue, not just driving hours and opportunities for rest. Therefore, a system is needed to manage fatigue risk in the industry that offers a more comprehensive approach to managing fatigue than that offered by hours of service regulation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Hartley, Laurence
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