NTC seeks to resolve dispute over time counting rule

By: Brad Gardner


Agency hopes collecting real-life operational data will address whether current fatigue management standards increase safety risk.

NTC seeks to resolve dispute over time counting rule
Police are concerned existing fatigue management regulations are creating a safety risk.

 

A new data-collection framework involving input from industry and government will be established in a bid to resolve a dispute over the time counting rule used for fatigue management regulations.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) plan to collaborate with trucking groups and governments to collect real-life operational data, which will include examining work diaries and shifts from recorded fatigue-related incidents.

The NTC hopes information gleaned from the process will allow it to determine if the method used to count driver work and rest hours is causing a fatigue risk.

South Australian and Victorian authorities believe drivers can manipulate the rule to exceed the number of permitted hours they can work in a 24-hour period, but industry groups and other governments do not share the same concern.

"There is no consensus on the degree and nature of fatigue risk associated with schedules that are possible under the current rule," NTC chair David Anderson says.

"One of the main challenges relating to determining the fatigue risk associated with scheduled (or unscheduled) work patterns of this nature is a lack of data…"

Anderson’s comments are contained in the NTC’s Counting Time and Residual Fatigue Risk Final report, which outlines the NTC’s data collection plan and the outcome of a 2013 workshop involving industry, police and road agencies discussing the time counting rule.

During the workshop, SA and Victoria police forces claimed the time counting rule allowed drivers to schedule unsafe shifts, called ‘nose-to-tail’, of up to 16 hours in a 24-hour period even if drivers were limited to 12-hour work days.

"Police participants noted that, anecdotally, they are seeing an increase in nose-to-tail schedules," the report says.

"Participants who did not agree on the risk’s existence or significance were not convinced that there is a clear, identifiable problem based on an unacceptable increase in fatigue risk arising out of nose-to-tail schedules that can and should be addressed.

"They argued that robust evidence demonstrating a safety risk needs to be made available before any further regulatory action occurs in relation to nose-to-tail schedules."

Groups taking part in the workshop included the Australian Logistics Council, the Australian Trucking Association, state government transport departments, the National Road Freighters Association and the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association.

The NTC’s report points out that those claiming the existing approach creates a fatigue risk are in the minority.

"The limited available evidence reviewed to date did not convince most workshop participants that nose-to-tail shifts represent a greater fatigue risk than other existing practices," it says.

SA believes legislative amendments are needed to remove any ability to manipulate the time counting rule. It says it gave the NTC examples of where the counting rule had been used to allow drivers to exceed their work hours.

But state government transport departments, particularly in New South Wales, pointed to a lack of evidence to back up the claims of police agencies.

"NSW RMS stressed that before anything more is done, it needs to be shown that there is a clear, identifiable problem based on an unacceptable increase in fatigue risk arising out of ‘nose-to-tail’ schedules that can and should be addressed," the report says.

"Transport NSW (TfNSW) stressed there was no agreement at the workshop that any change was necessary. TfNSW noted that agencies that were opposed to the current counting rule were unable to provide a clear reason, or evidence as to their issues."

SA and Victoria amended their time counting rule in 2011 to adopt the system in place in NSW and Queensland.

The move was designed to improve cross-border consistency and reduce incidents where drivers could be compliant in NSW and Queensland but then in breach of fatigue laws when entering SA and Victoria.

Under the current system, enforcement officers count driving time from the end of a major rest break to see if a driver has worked their correct hours in a 24-hour period.

Previously in SA and Victoria, officers could count time from the end of any rest break, which potentially left drivers exposed to facing multiple fatigue management breaches.

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