CR 209: Driver Fatigue: A Survey of Long Distance Transport Companies in Australia (2002)


This report describes the results of a national survey of transport companies in Australia. The aim was to survey companies about knowledge and awareness of fatigue, about workrest scheduling practices and about the factors which underlie the way schedules are organised. The survey was designed to provide complimentary information to that obtained in a national survey of drivers undertaken at the same time, and reported elsewhere. Telephone interviews with 200 companies carrying freight over distances greater than 300km were undertaken, covering all regulated mainland states of Australia, and the Northern Territory. Companies were selected randomly from the telephone directory. The Northern Territory was included because it provided a comparison with an unregulated state. A middle management staff member, familiar with line haul operations was interviewed from each company. This report presents the main descriptive data obtained in the survey and provides an overview of views, knowledge and practices with respect to fatigue management. Key comparisons were drawn with the data obtained from the driver survey undertaken at the same time.

One of the key findings of this report was that there is a lag between increased awareness of fatigue and changes in operational practice. The majority of companies reported that awareness of fatigue had increased, both for themselves and their company, as well as for the industry at large over the last 5 years. However, from the results it seems that this increased awareness does not guarantee better management of the problem. Only half of the companies surveyed reported that they believed that fatigue was well managed in the industry and one fifth reported that it is badly managed. Even so, this is more optimistic compared with the verdict of drivers, half of whom reported that fatigue is badly managed in the industry.

Further evidence of the lag between increased awareness about fatigue in general and companies actually coming to grips with better management of the problem came from views of causes of and strategies to manage fatigue. Virtually all companies endorsed the significance of sleep and recovery before and during trips, and the contribution of long hours. However, other key contributors to fatigue were grossly underestimated. Company representatives failed to report the significance of night work as a prime contributor to fatigue and consolidated night sleep as prime strategy for reducing fatigue. Similarly, there was lack of recognition by companies of the substantial contribution of non-driving work, particularly loading and unloading, to the overall burden on drivers, and accordingly lack of endorsement of limits for such work as a fatigue management strategy. This picture is in sharp contrast to that presented by drivers, where awareness of the key contributors and likely effective strategies was much more in line with current knowledge.

It is hardly surprising that fatigue has become a more prominent feature of companies’ risk management agenda. There have been a number of high profile initiatives in safety promotions and legislative directions over the last decade all aiming to focus industry attention on better management of driver fatigue. The results of the survey highlight that increased awareness does not immediately translate into increased knowledge and operational changes.

This systemic inertia was also evident in the persistence of industry perceptions that the freight task needs to be maximally responsive to the demands of customers and freight forwarders, often described as the chain of responsibility. In fact, the picture presented by the companies themselves was rather different. The majority of companies reported that they have considerable control over schedules, with only a minority reporting that their work was mostly irregular. Strict estimated times of arrival were uncommon and trip times were mostly based on company and driver estimates, according to the companies surveyed. In other words, companies appear to have potential for far greater control over their schedules than is recognised or exercised.

The study provided some evidence that better attitudes to fatigue were associated with company practices that were more likely to manage fatigue effectively. For example, more aware companies were more likely to monitor fatigue and were more likely to change their schedules to accommodate driver fatigue. In contrast, companies who relied on the industry in general for management of fatigue and/or in the working hours regulations were less likely to be paying attention to the problem, were less likely to monitor fatigue and were more likely to change schedules to suit customer demands rather than for driver fatigue. They also used fewer management strategies and were less likely to otherwise restrict hours. These findings suggest that while attitudes do not seem to have a dramatic effect on practice, education and information for companies is a useful strategy for actively involving companies in better management of fatigue and for overcoming complacency about the driver fatigue problem.

Fatigue management strategies reported by companies surveyed focused on limitations of daily and weekly hours of service. Not surprisingly, there was less intervention and active management of fatigue for non-employee drivers. Active fatigue management strategies, monitoring of fatigue, or even formal policies for fatigue management for sub-contractor and independent drivers were reported by only a small minority of companies. Yet half of the companies surveyed reported that they hire these types of drivers. In many cases fatigue management for non-employee drivers is likely to become, by default, the responsibility of the individual driver. This is a serious problem because effective fatigue management is unlikely to emerge without not only company co-operation, but also active and formal company collaboration.

Surprisingly few differences were evident between companies of different sizes. Obvious and predictable structural differences were reported, for example greater reliance of smaller companies on non-employee drivers. Also predictably, formal policies and technical monitoring approaches were less common, reflecting the resource intensive nature of these strategies. However, little impact was seen of company size on the attitudes to fatigue and scheduling practices reported by companies surveyed. This pattern of findings suggests that the translation of fatigue awareness into operational practices is universally slow, and is not just a feature of some segments of the industry having reduced access to information and so forth.

Overall, this survey suggests that there is considerable scope for improving understanding and management of fatigue in the industry. Companies do not seem to be doing all that could be done to improve management of fatigue. Partly, this seems to reflect a lack of understanding about the phenomenon. There was poor understanding among line haul managers of how driver fatigue develops, the key role played by time of day and the contribution of total burden of work, not just driving. There needs to be greater

understanding in the industry that the problem requires a more sophisticated approach than simply restricting hours of driving. Education and information for companies is likely to be a useful strategy to alert companies to the most appropriate practices and to overcome complacency about the problem. The survey revealed that approaches affecting global attitudes, general increases in awareness and so forth, have had little impact on practices. On the other hand, they are likely to have been important for raising the profile of the problem in the industry and laying the groundwork for more targeted information and education. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how transport operators could develop the most effective interventions for their particular freight task, as demanded by Fatigue Management Programs, without being better informed. From the results of this survey, improved understanding of fatigue and its characteristics among transport managers must be seen as an immediate priority.

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Type: Research and Analysis Report
Sub Type: Consultant Report
Author(s): A-M Feyer, A Williamson, R Friswell, S Sadural
ISBN: 1877093092
ISSN: 1445-4467
Topics: Fatigue, Heavy vehicle
Publication Date: 01/09/01

Related Links: CR 198: Driver Fatigue: A Survey of Long Distance Heavy Vehicle Drivers in Australia (2001)