AFM in for shake-up under national regulations

Governments urged to go back to the drawing board to fix failed advanced fatigue management scheme

AFM in for shake-up under national regulations
Fatigue laws in for a shake-up under national regs
By Brad Gardner | March 24, 2011

Governments are being urged to overhaul fatigue management laws as part of a push to establish national trucking regulations.

An expert panel responsible for developing options to achieve uniform truck regulations wants the problematic advanced fatigue management (AFM) scheme revised to make it simpler for industry.

Introduced alongside the basic fatigue management (BFM) and standard hours modules in 2008, AFM was designed to allow operators to develop their own fatigue management plans.

It permitted drivers to work up to 16 hours in Queensland and South Australia and 15 hours in NSW and Victoria in extenuating circumstances.

However, the panel claims the current system is too expensive and sets the entry bar too high for trucking operators. It proposes a scheme built around countermeasures that offset fatigue if a driver works more than 12 hours a day.

The panel says scientific evidence shows fatigue-related risks escalate after 12 hours of work, so companies that want drivers to work longer should develop measures to show how the risks will be minimised.

"For example, an operator might propose a longer shift time but offset the risk through operating only in daylight hours," a regulatory impact statement on national heavy vehicle laws released last month says.

"The operator might further reduce the risk through mandating a longer rest period before an after this longer shift."

Unlike the current system, templates will be freely available to operators to develop their own plans, reducing costs and streamlining the application process.

"Industry would have access to approved implementation plans drawn from actual applications or templates rather than starting from scratch and duplicating work across industry," the impact statement says.

The expert panel, which is independent of government and the transport industry, claims AFM applications currently cost between$10,000 and $20,000. Advice from fatigue management experts – a requirement under the application process – is estimated to cost businesses between $10,000 and $12,000.

If accepted, the panel’s proposal will do away with the need to seek advice from fatigue experts.

The fatigue authorities panel, which is responsible for approving AFM applications, will be replaced with a "fatigue expert group".

The expert panel says only 21 operators have been approved since AFM’s inception, well below a 2006 assumption that 11,300 drivers in 5500 fleets would become accredited.

ATN reported back in February 2009 on the problems engulfing the AFM scheme.

Despite passing all the necessary compliance and audit requirements, trucking operators’ AFM proposals were still being knocked back by the authorities panel.

There were delays in the announcement of fatigue management experts, limiting operators’ ability to organise workplace audits as part of the AFM process.

Provisions originally excluded from AFM were also slotted into the scheme, causing more angst and confusion in the industry.

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