OPINION: Fatigue mismanagement

By: The Interstater

The INTERSTATER: If 12 hours a day isn’t enough, some companies are pushing for more time spent behind the wheel

OPINION: Fatigue mismanagement
Put that phone away!


To single out one trucking company never seems quite fair, because one cannot ever say with complete certainty that they are the first, and there is no way known they will be the last. With that being so, it would be sensitive to say that there is a very large and long-established trucking company that has been plying their trade up and down the Pacific Highway and hold the respect of most clear-thinking transport people. But it comes as a great shock to hear they are seeking to have their drivers accredited to take on the unnecessary and quite dangerous can of worms titled AFM (Advanced Fatigue Management).

Now, not to point the bone at any one company, except to use this situation as an example of at what point the wheels fall off a great history, the burning question is "why". When most of Australia is looking for the door around 4.30pm each day, and are loathe to do another hour or two in overtime on any given day, and consider the thought of five hours overtime per week quite draining, why would any reasonable employer expect their drivers – who are in charge of more than a million bucks worth of equipment and freight – to increase their working day/night by another two or four hours?

When did 12 hours in every 24 become not enough? Isn’t it enough for drivers to contend with 144 hours a fortnight that they might need 86 hours in one week? Then to add insult to injury, insist on giving the schedulers the ability to swap and move their times around to suit the freight, regardless of the driver’s ability to handle the sudden changes in their sleeping habits.

It’s OK to think it’s going to be handled in a very professional way. But when you have your eyes hanging out and you find yourself fading away, struggling to keep your eyes open, a well thought out and programmed schedule isn’t going to stop drivers falling asleep at the wheel at a higher rate than ever before.

Why doesn’t this company pay its long-haul drivers for loading and unloading until they reach the 2.5-hour mark? What’s it going to take to make these big mobs understand that if one driver picks up a set of trailers that have been preloaded, and another has had to spend three hours of his day loading his, and they are both paid the same money in their bank at the end of the week, that the one loading is a victim of wage theft?

With such a huge fleet, and depots strategically located at reasonable intervals up and down the coast road, it must be obvious to a blind man that a 12 hour book would be more than capable of providing all concerned with a flexibility to complete any task, and continually using the freshest drivers available while keeping sufficient local drivers out and about loading line-haul trailers at a sustainable rate.

Again, why can they justify and afford to pay their local drivers for every minute they are on the clock, but can’t bring themselves to do the right thing by the boys (and girls) and pay the ones that are most often in a fatigue zone the same way as local drivers while they are doing the work of local drivers?

Tucked up in bed

Surely we should be moving closer to line-haul drivers never having to load and unload at all? Believing AFM capable is seen as being more flexible, but companies see that as a tool to be used in its entirety and with minimal input by their drivers. Really, drivers are considered to be just whingers and need to do what is asked of them with no questions or complaints (because no-one else has complained).

The owners of these big companies are quite often well respected and have been doing it a long time. They probably started out as drivers themselves but, as we all know, once a bloke steps out of the truck and sits behind a desk, he forgets just how hard it is to keep going when your body is saying ‘no’. And when they are tucked up in bed for the night and they’re not doing 100km/h, they can no longer see what far too many drivers are seeing.

BFM (Basic Fatigue Management) and AFM are recipes for disaster and a key way to an early grave and it’s hard to find a stretch of highway that isn’t proof of that.

What we do need is a 10-hour book with the flexibility and sensibility by drivers, for drivers, who can understand if you don’t think you can earn enough with a 10-hour book, you are simply not being paid for all you do or enough for what you do currently.

Phone crackdown

It’s great to see the crackdown on people driving around using their mobile phones instead of driving the vehicle they are supposed to be in control of in a completely safe manner. But has it gone too far? Sure, there is no argument that the majority of drivers, predominantly car drivers, can’t chew gum and change radio stations without causing a major crash, but there is that one big elephant in the room that must be considered, and it’s the simple fact that mobile phone usage and technology has been a very big contributor in decreasing the crash rate of long-haul, interstate drivers.

It must be said that not being able to drive along at night when we are getting a bit doughy, using the ability to ring a mate, ring the missus or someone who may be just as knackered has helped reduce the fatality rate on the open road. Sure, that doesn’t mean truck drivers should be cruising along with a phone in their hand, or taking selfies, or sending dick pics while trying to maintain 100km/h. But once these invasive overhead in-cab viewing cameras ramp up, let’s all hope the crash rate doesn’t increase.

Perhaps it’s time all employers ensure that their trucks, and their drivers, have the correct and most up-to-date technology available so their drivers aren’t the ones getting knocked off answering calls from operations managers and office staff and costing them their points and licenses as a result.

Oh, and stop thinking "geez, what more do we have to do for these bloody drivers" when you have drivers off work due to loss of licenses because of mobile phones. Have fun trying to replace them.

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