Keeping fatigue management in check

How electronic work diaries are beginning to augment traditional methods of monitoring driver fatigue and improving compliance within the chain of responsibility.Most television-watching Australians in the 1990s will recall the visceral impact of a certain driver safety ad campaign involving a Kombi van coming off worse against a truck.

The commercial, released in 1994 by the Transport Accident Commission titled ‘Night Shift’, follows a young couple setting off on an overnight drive to their weekend destination. Despite his best efforts to stay awake, including turning up the radio and encouraging his partner to talk to him on the journey, the driver dozes off and crashes the vehicle, presumably fatally, into the side of an on-coming truck.

Television ads such as this may have a lasting impression on the general public, and hopefully even persuade motorists to think again before setting off on a long trip with minimal sleep. However, the issue of driver fatigue is one that still weighs heavily on Australian minds, especially in the wider transport and heavy machine operator sectors.

“It is obviously a big issue from a safety standpoint. Truck drivers have that extra responsibility of being in among regular traffic. From that perspective it’s not just about their own safety but the safety of those around them too,” explains Paul Weiss, Transport Subject Matter Expert at Teletrac Navman.

“There’s also the issue from a productivity point of view because a human being can only operate at a given rate. There’s a very common link between what’s humanly possible and productivity.

“The other big issues are: how do we monitor it? And how do the safety boards and governments between them go about monitoring it? To date, the only way they have been able to do this is through pen and paper.”

Mr. Weiss says written work diaries have typically been the only resource for transport companies and fleet operators in monitoring driver fatigue and helping maintain compliance with the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) under the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the CoR recently and the national laws surrounding it changing. The CoR covers everything in carrying deliverables from the original source to the destination and, of course, transport is a big element in that chain,” explains Mr. Weiss. “If you’re trying to stay within the compliancy of the CoR as a truck driver, it’s nearly impossible to do it on paper.”

A conventional truck driver’s written work diary requires them to keep a physical record of their work and rest hours, often in 15-minute increments. On face value, it’s a straightforward record of how many rest breaks the driver has taken, which helps keep the driver and fleet operator compliant within the CoR.

However, Mr. Weiss says there are many factors that make a written work diary problematic in this context.

“Documentation is something that occurs in some form after the fact,” he says. The information gathered within the diaries is primarily only accessible once the driver has completed their trip. The major issue here is the fact that a driver may have inadvertently missed a scheduled break for a variety of reasons – anything from a crash on the road, heavy traffic or simply not being able to find an adequate rest stop. In the worst-case scenario, they may have had an accident or crash.

“The rules for the driver’s work diaries also vary from state to state and it soon becomes expensive and complex to maintain compliance,” states Mr. Weiss. “The big operators are obviously concerned and they’re employing more people to do work such as diary audits and checks and training – they’re extremely costly exercises. They’re absolutely frustrated with how expensive the cost of doing it is.” Mr. Weiss says smaller operators, on the other hand, may not have the resources to try and improve work diary compliance. “There are all kinds of these challenges along the way that make it very hard. It’s one thing to monitor, but the key challenge is how to keep the individual driver compliant.”

For many fleet operators in Australia and around the globe, the issue of keeping heavy vehicle operators compliant with the CoR and monitor driver fatigue is being effectively managed via the introduction of electronic work diaries (EWD).

An EWD essentially has the same qualities of the existing work diary, except its digitised. It’s a technological solution that can be used by driver, operator and back-office staff to manage fatigue.

Typically, an EWD comprises an in-vehicle device that the driver can use to record when they start work or rest with a push of a button. This information, including GPS location, current time and date, is then provided in real-time to the fleet operator and staff. All this paints an accurate portrait of a driver’s fatigue status at any given time.

This digital process means the driver manages their own compliance, and takes the focus away from regulating hours into managing fatigue. The back-office staff gain a real-time window into each of their driver’s fatigue.

The driver will still record their rest breaks on paper, but the process is simpler and more accurate with the introduction of a digital component.

The information is all captured in real-time and calculated against fatigue rules, whether the driver is operating under standard hours, basic fatigue management or even advanced fatigue managed rules.

“The rule engine has the ability to do all those calculations and work out where the driver is going and what they need to make their scheduled rest period,” says Mr. Weiss. For instance, the EWD system can automatically pre-warn the driver when their next scheduled rest is.

“It’ll request a rest stop and feed all the valuable information into the cloud. It’s designed to check if the driver is OK in advance and not after the fact,” he says.

“The EWD measures times in increments of seconds, not minutes, hours or days. Paper diaries don’t have that same ability.”

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