Prime Mover Magazine

Tackling driver fatigue

‘Hours of driving’ is a science in its own right. It has been studied, scrutinised and altered for the safety of heavy vehicle drivers and of course, the people they share the road with. Schedules, rosters and shift rotations are also being reviewed regularly to minimise driver fatigue, which again is a sign that companies are thinking outside the square. 

That's all good, but let's explore fatigue beyond just driver hours and shift patterns. Though they are a critical component to driver fatigue and safety, the story of driver fatigue runs far deeper – it finds itself in the firing line of Australian culture.

Let's start by looking at what drivers do on weekends, days off and even on holidays. They've traversed the countries highways or city streets for five or six days straight, clocking up phenomenal driving hours, coping with their own and others stress, entering and exiting their vehicle countless times and often performing manual handling tasks when out of their vehicle. They finish their working week tired and in many cases exhausted, which is fair enough. 

Their body, brain and mind have copped a pounding, therefore they really need to rest and restore on days off. The ideal scenario is for a driver to seek two quality eight hour sleeps in a row, drink plenty of water, go for walks, get into the garden, jog, swim or ride, sit in a park or on a river bank, enjoy home cooked veggies, load up on fruit and most importantly, spend quality 'clean' time with wives, partners, children or friends. That's rest and restoration in a nutshell.

A driver or anyone for that matter that chooses this path on days off will start the next working week raring to go and 'switched on’. The other way to eat up the time on days off, shut down and relax is to get home, crack open a beer or bottle of wine, get out the cheese, dips ‘n' crackers, and simply sit and ‘become numb’. Some drivers may even opt for other substances that 'relax' the mind and body, substances that we know as drugs. In the pursuit of momentary feelings of happiness and wellbeing this will work a treat – momentary being the prerogative word.

The first day off is a little hazy, in a state of mind a long way from motivated to exercise and with a system crying out for saturated fat. Then they have another night on their ‘turps’ of choice, another unrestful sleep and before they know it they're back in the truck wondering why they feel fatigued before they even make the first turn. Given that many accidents occur in the first hours of the first shift back from a break suggests that maybe there's some truth in all this.

Hold on, let's get real here: this isn't about eating lettuce leaves, meditating for an hour and completely abstaining. This is about considering whether your and your colleagues’ choices on days off result in energy at the start of the working week or whether they are actually fatiguing you before you even start.

Then there's the 'golden time' that is holidays. What an opportunity to rejuvenate both mind and body and soak up hours relaxing with friends and family. Holidays are the perfect chance to focus on refilling energy stores lost in the hustle and bustle of working weeks, so it begs the following two questions: When on holidays do you exercise more, focus on fresh food and adequate hydration and take your chance to settle your nervous system? Or: When on holidays do you slay your body, mind and brain with increased alcohol or drug consumption, eat up a storm, remain idle and essentially frazzle your nervous system? Till next time, good luck and good health.

Written by Matthew Beechey, Director of R&R Corporate Health and acclaimed industry health and wellbeing expert.

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