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ATA fights for split rest option

Fatigue experts have questioned allowing drivers to split rest, but trucking lobby says drivers should be given the right

By Brad Gardner | November 1, 2010

Fatigue experts might question giving truck drivers the choice of splitting rest breaks, but the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) is refusing to give up on the issue.

Responding to the National Transport Commission’s review of basic fatigue management (BFM), ATA CEO Stuart St Clair (pictured) has defended giving drivers more of a say in how they rest.

The ATA wants drivers to be allowed to split an eight-hour rest into blocks of six hours and two hours provided they do not do it on consecutive days.

If accepted, the proposal will replace the current requirement of a seven-hour continuous break in any 24-hour period. Under existing fatigue laws, drivers can only use a split rest break as a defence if they are accused of not taking the required seven-hour break.

St Clair says drivers prefer to take sleep when they need it instead of working to a schedule. Drivers working under BFM currently need to take a 15 minute rest after six hours of work.

“The ATA wishes to ask that the NTC further consider the industry’s suggestion to amend the current split rest defence,” St Clair writes.

“We are concerned that the incentive in the current rules is to push on when tired, rather than rest.”

Referring to work carried out by National Transport Insurance (NTI), St Clair says drivers are at risk of fatigue within the first five hours of a shift.

“The risk during this first period of work is in the first five hours, as the drivers are establishing their “work rhythm”. There is [a] strong argument that facilitating driver-initiated napping in this time is something the law should clearly provide for,” he writes.

According to St Clair, experienced drivers have traditionally managed their fatigue by breaking an eight-hour rest into two blocks: one six-hour rest and a “nana nap” of two hours.

With BFM mandating when drivers must stop, St Clair says the existing system is focused on pressuring drivers to avoid breaches rather than allowing them to react to their body requirements.

The ATA believes drivers can be trusted to use split rests responsibly because of the accreditation standards they must meet before being allowed to work under BFM.

“BFM drivers receive specific training about fatigue, recognising its onset, and counter measures. They are accredited, and it is reasonable to trust these trained professionals to make an appropriate decision about using split rest,” St Clair says.

Dr Drew Dawson, Dr Adam Fletcher and Professor Ann Williamson are wary of permitting split rests, according to the findings of an NTC discussion with the fatigue experts.

“Naps of one to two hours duration are more likely to produce sleep inertia than shorter naps,” the report says.

Concerns were also raised over breaking a driver’s sleep into two periods because it might decrease the value of the rest break.

“This concern is based on previous research which demonstrated that truck drivers do not get sleep hours equivalent to the hours of rest available,” the report says.

According to the report, Dawson believes split rests and a 14-day cycle should be considered on a case-by-case basis similar to advanced fatigue management (AFM) applications.

In his response to the NTC, St Clair calls for work diaries to be scrapped for BFM and AFM drivers working locally if equivalent records are kept.

He says drivers should also be allowed to personally use trucks during their days off. Existing fatigue regulations prevent drivers from using their vehicles once they have reached their allotted work hours.

“It is about giving drivers the opportunity to do their other living needs like washing, shopping, and taking some time out,” St Clair says.

He also supports replacing the existing requirement of a 24-hour break after seven days of work with a 14-day cycle of two lots of 24-hour breaks.

Under the ATA’s proposal, drivers will be free to take the breaks separately or together within a 14-day period.

The NTC proposed introducing a 14-day cycle to give business more flexibility and allow drivers to spend more time with their families.

The ATA is backing changes to the definition of night restrictions, which currently stop drivers from starting work before 5am. The NTC proposes allowing drivers to start at 4am to address the concerns of rural and regional operators.

Feedback from industry to the proposed BFM changes will go to a fatigue maintenance group before the NTC releases a final report.

It is unclear when the reforms will be introduced if they are accepted. The NTC says the timing will depend on the development of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which will be operating in 2013. The NTC will also need to consult state and territory governments.

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