Fatigue expert calls for 10 hour daily limit for drivers

By: Brad Gardner, Photography by: Brad Gardner


Truck drivers work too long and too hard, says Williamson, who wants major changes to fatigue management laws.

Fatigue expert calls for 10 hour daily limit for drivers
Ann Williamson says truck drivers should work fewer hours.

 

Truck drivers should mostly be limited to 10-hour workdays and receive longer rest periods, according to one of Australia’s preeminent fatigue experts.

Professor Ann Williamson has called for a radical overhaul of current fatigue management laws, including scrapping the basic fatigue management (BFM) module that allows drivers to work 14-hour days.

Williamson says the community is shocked when told how long truck drivers are allowed to work for and that she is worried they are being pushed too hard at the expense of their health and quality of life.

"It is time we review what we are allowing these drivers to do," Williamson, who has been at the forefront of work on fatigue for a number of years, told ATN.

"I can’t see any reason why truck drivers can’t be working similar hours to what you or I work…Certainly eight to 10 hours of work is probably adequate."

Existing laws permit drivers to work 12 hours in a 24-hour period – known as standard hours – or 14 hours, if they have BFM accreditation.

Drivers must take a seven-hour break after reaching their maximum daily work hours, but Williamson believes the amount of time needs to be longer.

She says once drivers park their truck, find something to eat, shower and then get ready for bed they do not have time to gain enough sleep.

"Only seven hours of break time isn’t enough," Williamson says.

"I think we need to be looking at something that is realistic that takes into account an hour for an evening meal, half an hour freshening up or whatever, half an hour for breakfast. What are we up to now? We’re up to nine [hours]."

Williamson is particularly critical of BFM for allowing 14-hour workdays for up to six days straight and a total of 144 hours of work in 14 days.

Under this system, a truckie can drive six hours before needing to take a 15 minute break, and work a maximum of 84 hours in one week.

"It’s very scary to me how many companies and drivers are now doing BFM since 2008," Williamson says.

"Since it has been allowed, it has really taken the industry by storm. Many, many companies are doing it and it is a serious problem.

"Driving for six hours without a break is just ridiculous. Who does it? And why is it that mere mortals like us are told to take a break every two hours and these guys aren’t?

"It just doesn’t add up. When you start talking about this, it is indefensible that we still do it."

 

ADVANCED FATIGUE MANAGEMENT THE FUTURE

Williamson wants the trucking industry to move toward an advanced fatigue management (AFM)-type approach that offers accredited companies and drivers the flexibility to develop their own fatigue management systems.

Companies and drivers with AFM accreditation can schedule long work days – up to 16 hours in some instances – but they then must offset this by scheduling longer breaks or a shorter work time the following day or days.

Williamson says she supports this approach because it ensures drivers are not working long shifts repeatedly during the course of a week.

"It’s all about trading off one and the other. If you want to push their hours out at work then you have got to trade off a greater amount of rest," Williamson says.

"I think that there are some solutions that require a bit more flexible thinking. So long as we don’t end up with unintended consequences, I definitely think that is the way of the future."

Although AFM has been around since 2008 it has struggled to gain traction with the trucking industry due to the lengthy and expensive process involved in gaining accreditation.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is now in charge of AFM and making it more accessible to operators and drivers, including producing templates to simplify the accreditation process.

Williamson says AFM is preferable to BFM because the latter involves drivers working long shifts of 14 hours consecutively for up to six days straight.

"Under AFM you’d never do six [days] of them," Williamson says.

"You’d do one and then you’d trade off. Something less the next day or you give them a day off.

"I don’t know why we can’t run an industry with much better thought. It would be much more productive and much more efficient, too, because tired drivers aren’t efficient."

Williamson is adamant the industry cannot continue on the same path when it comes to the amount of hours drivers are working.

"Part of the point is you want to be able to have an industry where people can actually live a life that is worth living," she says.

"You know, where drivers get to see their families again and things like that. For many drivers that isn’t the case. They get one day off and that is it.

"I think that we shouldn’t just accept that. I think it is time to change."

 

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