Managing driver fatigue is a subject and action that is being taken more seriously and being tackled more robustly by an increasing number of fleet operators. Unfortunately, this is an area of road risk that sits on the periphery for a lot of fleet operators and the majority of drivers do not believe their employer takes the matter seriously enough.
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 fatigue 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.
Do not be mistaken that the above are the only causes. 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 getting behind the wheel.
Fatigue could be identified if a driver shows any of the following telltale signs: mood changes; communication difficulties; difficulty concentrating; becoming easily distracted; reduced attention; decreased vigilance; difficulty processing information; reduced short-term memory; slowed performance; increased errors; reduced physical strength; and ‘tunnel vision’ or microsleeps.
Fleet operators need to implement robust measures to identify, educate and support 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 strongly 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.
Failure to listen and act now could be catastrophic for the fleet operator, the driver, their family and other roads users and their families.