Driver Safety - Why We Need to Talk About Fatigue

Driver Safety - Why We Need to Talk About Fatigue

  • Date: Wednesday 23rd October 2019
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Employers must do more to ensure workers do not put themselves at risk on the roads.

According to Department for Transport (DfT) statistics, there were 1,770 deaths and 165,100 casualties on Great Britain’s roads in the year to 30 June 2018. Meanwhile, DfT figures from 2014 suggest that the number of drivers who were killed as a direct result of driving for work is around 30% of the total, suggesting there were around 530 work-related driver fatalities in that 12-month period.

It’s a reasonable guess that some of these drivers would have been travelling to and from shift work, with a greater than average likelihood that they were experiencing fatigue at the time. Meanwhile, it is estimated that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to a fifth of all road accidents in the general population.

Although commuting to and from the workplace is not generally classified as driving for work, it becomes so when the person’s journey from home takes them to a location that is not their normal place of employment. In this case, the employer’s general duty to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act would apply.

When you put together the reality of long shifts, extended commutes and the pressures of balancing work with family life, employers should take note and take action to reduce fatigue amongst their employees.

Some may at first be understandably resistant to, for example, moving from 12 to lower-paid eight-hour shifts. However, working 12 hour shifts and commuting for two hours each way, one worker was only left with eight hours a day in which to fit in family life and sleep. In the event, the switch to eight-hour shifts transformed his life both at home and at work.

The workers we spoke in the podcast said they would not go back to the old regime of 12-hour shifts. It also describes how, by absorbing the costs of operating shorter shifts and thereby removing the financial incentive for the workforce to work longer hours, the client and employer still gained an all-round productivity boost.

The biggest challenge for any researcher in this field is that fatigue risk cannot be measured directly, yet there is still an imperative to manage the risk, during working hours as well as before and after shifts.

One myth is that older workers are likely to be more resilient than their younger colleagues. There are, of course, those older workers who have “survived” long shift patterns for years, but in general studies show a decreasing tolerance to shift work with age. Taking up shift work in later years creates an even greater risk.

It’s thought that while around 20% of shift workers give it up because they cannot tolerate this way of life, there are approximately 10% who enjoy it. At present there’s no real way of predicting which people are best suited to shift work due to physiological factors, such as being able to cope with disrupted circadian rhythms. However, wearable technology is starting to help identify those groups most at risk of fatigue, so that employers can offer interventions.

It’s crucial that employers take a more holistic approach to fatigue, starting with listening more. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that allowing workers to have input into setting their shift patterns can have extremely positive effects, and a by-product of improved wellbeing is increased productivity. Employers should also be providing good catering options, comfortable and clean welfare facilities, access to daylight and “daylight” bulbs.

If senior management takes the view that long shifts and even longer commutes are acceptable because the workforce is used to it, then they are living in a bygone era. The tide is turning. We must do everything we can to ensure that people are not so fatigued that they complete a shift safely, but then die at the wheel of a vehicle on the way home.


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