Fitness for duty figures in public debate on fatigue

Experts seek to cast light on deeper issues and dispel assumptions

Fitness for duty figures in public debate on fatigue
Kim Hassall sees fitness for duty as the prime driver-fatigue concern


With much New South Wales mainstream media truck safety commentary focused on industry regulations, experts this week sought to clarify some of the assumptions made.

One of the serious examinations occurred on Radio 2GB’s Chris Kenny show, which spent about an hour, off and on, tackling the truck fatality spike and the long driving hours allowed by regulations.

While Kenny’s main argument was that the maximum allowable limit of 14 hours on several consecutive days was inherently dangerous, he began by asking Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chief of staff Bill McKinley for his thoughts on the spike’s likely cause.


McKinley responded that the precise reason was not known but the predominance of multi-vehicle as opposed to single-vehicle incidents indicated factors other than fatigue might be a play.

He noted the spike was not a general and that it ran against trends in other states.

McKinley did note that owner-drivers were vulnerable to pressure from larger customers but pointed to Chain Of Responsibility (COR) reforms heightening sanctions against non-compliance up along the supply chain.

Kenny, however, kept his aim on drivers’ hours, repeating that society had accepted a false bargain in low transport cost for goods such as groceries, with any savings soaked up by the cost of fatigue-related truck accidents.

He also noted that the other states were not subject to the through-traffic NSW is.


Industry academic Professor Kim Hassall, the former chair of the National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC), sought to give other perspectives to the debate.

He noted that some 10 years ago, about 28 per cent of high-impact truck collisions in NSW was fatigue related.

This in now down to about 12 per cent now, a good news story that had been overlooked.

Hassall also noted that fatigue is not necessarily entirely due to the latest trip but could accumulate.

While Kenny and others have been at pains to note the pressures drivers and owner-drivers were under, driver responsibility, like that of motorists, has been canvassed somewhat less in recent debate than in the past.

With the caveat that he was not accusing the great majority truck drivers of having lifestyles that contributed to accidents, Hassall emphasised that being in a proper state to undertake what is an arduous and dangerous task was crucial to safety.

This was especially so as NTARC statistics showed a prevalence of high impact heavy vehicle accidents on Mondays and Tuesdays.

"On the longer distance trips, 70 per cent of accidents happened in the outbound trip within 500km," Hassall says.  

"That means there is a big problem with fitness for duty.

"It’s got to be about if the driver is fit for duty at the time [work is being] done.

"At a safety conference last year, I said: ‘If heavy duty truck drivers treated themselves like airline pilots, we wouldn’t have anywhere near this problem.

"I got laughed at.

"What airline pilots do is they are off the booze at noon on Saturday, they go to bed on Sunday at 9.30pm and [with] any blemishes on what their normal practices are, they can lose their flying licences.

"And I said: ’wouldn’t it be nice if a little bit of that culture got transferred into the industry’."


Meanwhile, NSW roads minister Melinda Pavey has refused to resile from her driver shock technology comments, saying on Channel 10’s The Project program that it was used around the world, blaming the Transport Workers Union (TWU) for the negative response to her comments and insisting many truck drivers would welcome cutting edge technology that would keep them alert.

 She did accept that fatigue caused by unreasonable demands on drivers was an issue.

"I don’t want truck drivers out there driving if they feel unsafe, that they’re being pushed too hard," Pavey says.

"We have a big challenge in this country at the moment, we have a shortage of truck drivers, and I want to be able ensure that people might think about becoming a truck driver if they know that there might be this technology and that the government is supporting them.

"I think this is part of a security blanket that can actually make everyone’s job a bit easier and, more importantly, after what we’ve seen over the last few days, safer."


Pavey is understood to have met today with ATA and Road Freight NSW representatives on the fatalities spike.

"RFNSW will continue working with the Government, regulators, its RFNSW members and other industry stakeholders, to improve safety on our roads," a spokesman tells ATN.

"RFNSW wants safety to be the cornerstone of what truck drivers do each and every day."

The full 2GB podcast can be found here.

The Project podcast can be found here.


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