Saturday 24 June 2017

Experts outline driver fatigue safety risks

Operators should think very carefully about the health and safety implications before acquiescing to pressure to switch to night-time deliveries, according to Richard Brewer, the lead technical executive at training provider RTITB, and a former truck driver.

“Night-time driving is more efficient for the operator and better for other road users,” he told delegates at the Microlise Transport Conference.

“But here are some things that you need to consider: driver well-being, sleep, mental health, fatigue, noise, vehicle security and driver safety.”

“Is night-driving riskier than day?” he asked.

“Consider this. According to ROSPA 40 per cent of traffic collision occur during hours of darkness, but only 15 per cent of vehicle miles are travelled at night. And night-time roads are getting busier than they used to be.

“Darkness reduces forward vision, and the driver’s ability to judge speed and distance is reduced. There are no positives for vision at night, and some people may actually have night blindness.”

He argued that this impairment would not be picked up by the eye-test included in the professional driver’s medical.

“Is being found able to read a standard numberplate at a distance of 20 metres in daylight enough?” He asked.

“People working at a VDU screen in an office get more comprehensive eye-tests than truck drivers do.

“Drivers have to work harder to do the same job at night: ask yourself, does that increase fatigue?

“The hours of 2am to 6am are the peak times for fatigue, followed by the period between 2pm and 4pm. This is a natural cycle in human beings and the Health & Safety Executive warns that employees’ ‘performance at night is generally poorer.’

“Night-shift workers miss 14 hours of sleep a week if they try to stay awake so they can have a ‘normal’ weekend.”

Even the advice given to drivers who feel sleepy – “turn on the radio and open a window” – was less effective at night.

“I listen to Chris Evans on Radio 2 in the morning,” he admitted. “It’s all very upbeat: the presentation and music are designed to get everyone up and going. But what do we find on Radio 2 at night?

“Whispering Bob Harris. He likes playing jazz: downbeat jazz, it’s designed to calm the nation down and send everyone to sleep. It could make the situation worse.

“There’s also the question of security: unloading high-value cargoes at the kerb-side at night, makes them more vulnerable to theft and even increases the risk of drivers being physically attacked.

“Also consider the neighbourhood that you are delivering into. Deliveries at 4am will have a huge impact on the sleep of nearby residents.

“So, I’d urge you to undertake proper assessments including all these factors before agreeing to night-time deliveries, and ask yourselves: “do we communicate enough with our drivers when planning night-time deliveries?”

“Ultimately, the drivers know better than anyone what’s at risk during night-time deliveries.”

Sleep was also a theme for John Stradling, professor of respiratory medicine at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, who spoke about the important subject of obstructive sleep apnoea and its impact on truck drivers.

Sufferers may find it impossible to get a proper night’s sleep, because they are repeatedly disturbed when their airways become obstructed and never enjoy proper ‘deep’ sleep. They are likely to have no recollection of this upon waking, but are very short of sleep and may find themselves nodding-off without warning the following day.

“Drivers may be dangerously inattentive on the road and generally apathetic during the day,” he said.

“While the sufferer may not be aware of the problem, their partner almost certainly will be, because it will disrupt their sleep too,” the professor said.

Excess weight and middle age are key factors in the development of sleep apnoea, and as many as one in ten middle-aged men may have it “to some degree,” he warned.

It is now quite well-known among the truck-driving community, but drivers are understandably reluctant to seek medical intervention because they fear they may find themselves with their driving entitlement revoked and at the end of a long queue for treatment, he recounted.

The professor said that the good news was that the condition was easy and cheap to treat and did not normally require a surgical intervention.

“It is treated with continuous positive airways pressure: a small mask feeding slightly-pressurised air to the nose; which the patient puts on before going to sleep,” the Professor explained. “Treatment is usually effective within a night.

“It’s vital that drivers and employers take this issue seriously.

“We do not however advocate compulsory screening, which we know some companies in the USA have introduced. But we are working with UK hauliers to engage in voluntary testing.

“It must be remembered that drivers who are worried about this condition may very well be worried about losing their jobs. Sadly, we see many drivers only after they have had an accident. Sufferers may well be unaware that they have this condition, although their partners who will often hear them struggling for breath in their sleep, almost certainly will be.

“We want drivers back on the road with their condition treated within a maximum period of four weeks. We have requested that professional drivers be fast-tracked for treatment by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), but it may take three or four years for this policy to be implemented.

“It is a common problem: 10 per cent of the national driving workforce may have reduced vigilance because of it. Overweight individuals are at increased risk.”

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