Union tests for fatigue, 20pc admit regular tiredness

TWU screens thousands for sleep deprivation; new report shows nearly 20 percent too tired to work

By Michael House | October 14, 2009

The transport union is screening more truck drivers for sleep deprivation, as a new report shows nearly 20 percent of truckies are too tired to be behind the wheel.

According to findings made public by the Institute of Breathing and Sleep, based on medical tests of 4,000 transport workers, 4 percent admitted to "regularly" falling asleep at the wheel while 20 percent reported regular sleep deprivation.

Bill Baarini, General Counsel for the Victoria/Tasmania branch of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), says fatigue is a top priority for the union.

"We are currently in the middle of another [medical] screening process for 1,000 more transport workers throughout metropolitan and rural Victoria," Baarini says.

"It is about trying to get a bit of a sense about how the industry is faring when it comes to sleep apnoea.

The latest survey according to Baarini gives workers a chance to be tested privately and in the highest confidence.

"We get a medic to go out and do a screening which is strictly confidential," he says.

"The results are then sent to [the Institute] and if there is a person of interest they will identified for further tests.

"The union’s mission is to raise awareness and let them [industry workers] know about it and let them know what they can do".

Despite the somewhat alarming results regarding sleep deprivation in Victoria, Baarini is keen to point out the condition is curable and not out of control amongst the Australian trucking community.

"I don’t think we should be alarmed or putting out the view that we have drivers who are suffering from sleep apnoea [on mass]," he says.

"It is just important to make it clear that there is an issue that comes with sleep fatigue, no matter what industry you are in but especially with truck drivers as well as ordinary motorists.

"I think that like anything unless there is awareness about the issue then people are not going to be able to address the issue. People need to know that if they are suffering from sleep apnoea they are not going to lose their job.

"In fact they need to know that if they do something about it then they can actually save their lives and their jobs."

Baarini says the TWU has been it contact with the Victorian Government over the issue and has received some support for its campaign.

"If you look at what the Government has done with worker health checks in order to improve people’s health and well being, with the view this will lead to better productivity gains," Baarini says.

"This [the sleep deprivation issue] is a component of this it is important the government and the union work together to preserve community and driver safety."

The TWU says the current survey will be completed by the end of the year and it hopes for the results by March or April 2010.

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