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Fatigue management: compliance is a step, not a goal

Effective fatigue management needs more than work hour compliance. If you’re not looking at fatigue’s critical risk factors, you won’t have an effective fatigue management system.

There’s no doubt that log books and time management are important, but fatigue is a whole-of-life problem that needs a whole-of-life solution.

That doesn’t mean you need to become best mates with all your drivers.

But it does mean you need to be aware of the factors outside work – such as child care duties, illness, health and family responsibilities – that impact them.

Compliance: a starting point

Work hour compliance gives you a top-level look at fatigue. Its real value, however, comes from the actions and conversations that follow.

“If you’ve got a work diary in front of you and it’s come up as red, you say ‘ah-ha’. But that’s just the starting point,” says Ferdie Kroon, Risk and Compliance Manager at De Bruyn’s Transport in Tasmania.

“Compliance starts the ball rolling. That’s the good bit. But if you leave the ball rolling and do nothing with it, then it becomes a pain, and you don’t achieve what you need it to achieve.”

Conversations are the key 

Use your compliance data to trigger schedule, route and procedure reviews. Most importantly, it can lead to positive conversations with team members about how you can maintain and improve their safety and good health.

“There has to be a conversation,” Ferdie says. Critically, you should frame it as a positive conversation (‘let’s work together’) rather than as a negative conversation (‘there’s a problem’).

“If you’re negative about your conversation and you’re negative about the approach, it won’t lead to positive human behaviour.” 

Having frequent conversations is vital, Ferdie says. “Complacency about fatigue is something we see every week. 

“That’s where awareness and regular, positive conversations come in handy.”

Supporting your team is cost-effective

Offering support to drivers that are having trouble with fatigue is essential. Cost-wise, it’s a no-brainer to provide medical checkups (and treatment), counselling and other forms of assistance.

Footing the bill for this kind of ‘team maintenance’ is a lot cheaper than the cost of a major fatigue incicent, as Ferdie notes: 

“The costs pale into insignificance next to a major incident. A couple of hundred dollars for medicals, conversations on a regular basis … those small conversations all lead to more positive behaviour. 

“They’re priceless. And they don’t cost much.”

Culture plays a critical role 

Workplace culture also has a critical role to play in managing fatigue. Letting drivers know it’s okay to say they’re fatigued is one thing; supporting them when they do is another.

“If schedulers and team managers are gruff and unapproachable, if it’s just about ticking the box, then the culture setting is wrong,” Ferdie says. 

“You won’t get an improvement in health or retention.”

If a driver comes to work and says, ‘I was up all night with the kids, the missus is crook, and I’m stuffed’, you should respond positively. Find a solution that protects the driver (and your business). 

It might be possible to send the driver home for the day. But if it’s not, you can still find ways to manage fatigue risks, as Ferdie suggests:

“Your response might be, ‘I’ve got no-one else to do this task’. But you could schedule the day, so the driver is resting every half hour. You can develop a plan to keep them safe. 

“Maybe you can develop a better schedule. Or maybe you can say, ‘Hang on, I’ve jot Joe Blogs out there. He’s qualified to do your run, and he’s on forklift. Let’s just swap you around and put you on managed forklift time.”

Ferdie says that adopting this kind of positive culture has benefits beyond day-to-day problem-solving: 

“It sounds altruistic, but people need to come to work, and there needs to be a desire to come to work. You can’t just rock up day in, day out because, after a while, you’ll get fed up and go.

“So you’ve got to have that desire, and culture will help create it.”

Get training if you need it 

Too many managers are appointed to their position because they’re good drivers or good at running operations. Not everyone is comfortable with being a manager; the smart move is to seek training or support if you feel you’re not on top of things.

“Talk to HR or the risk team,” says Ferdie. Or ask your boss to send you for some training. It’s an investment in safety, just like the conversations and support you offer your drivers.

“You’ve got to have confidence and the tools to have conversations with people, which leads to better outcomes.”

Training should also be part of the company culture. You want to be part of an organisation that invests in its staff rather than just seeing them as numbers on a spreadsheet.

Top tips for fatigue management

Pulling it all together, here are our top tips for effective fatigue management:

  • Review your highest fatigue risk freight tasks: check your data to see any ‘hot spots’ or routes that regularly experience fatigue incidents. You might need to change routes, issue special instructions to drivers or take other steps to address any problems.
  • Talk to your high-risk staff: staff with health or relationship difficulties, or drivers changing between day and night shift or coming back from leave, have elevated fatigue risks. Offer support to help them stay fit and alert behind the wheel. 
  • Review your technology: there might be procedures or devices you can introduce to help manage fatigue better. Driver monitoring systems can be divisive, but they can significantly benefit drivers and operational teams alike if introduced positively. 
  • Treat fatigue management as a process, not an event: fatigue is a day-to-day problem, so you can’t manage it once and be done. Stay engaged with your team members and offer support when it’s needed.
  • Get training if you need it: there are plenty of training and support programs and opportunities for managers, from mentors to formal courses. If you need support, get it.
  • Don’t treat fatigue or health problems as negatives: if you treat fatigue and health management as opportunities to help your team members, they’re more likely to perform well and stay with the business longer. 

“Compliance opens the door,” Ferdie says. “It’s a starting point for addressing whatever’s causing your drivers fatigue.”

With care, conversation and compliance, you’ve got the makings of a great fatigue management system. What’s stopping you?

  1. This article has been developed as part of NTI’s The Business of Safety series with the aim of helping transport and logistics businesses become safer and more sustainable. The Business of Safety is funded by the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Australian Government. Information in this document is a guide only. It does not take into account your personal or business circumstances. Whilst all due care has been taken, you must not rely on the information as an alternative to legal, legislated regulatory and compliance requirements associated with your business activities. NTI.M002.6.05072021

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