Fatigue, for Matthew Beechey, Director of R&R Corporate Health, is not unlike dealing with mental health — early intervention is crucial.
The company, which specialises in health and safety with Human Resources departments to develop their well-being brand, offers deep dive solutions into fatigue management with two decades of experience working within the logistics and road transport sectors.
In 2018 Monash released findings from a study correlating driver fatigue and road accidents. Based on the presence of factors such as extended driving hours, falling asleep at the wheel, distractions, driving right of centre and night-time driving, the study estimated fatigue contributed to 19.9 per cent of accidents.
According to a NTARC Report released in 2019, fatigue was underlying cause of crashes 34.8 per cent of the time in which truck drivers died with inattention/distraction representing another 30.4 per cent of these tragic incidents.
Most definitions of fatigue include the concept of a deterioration with extended effort in work output, physiological well-being or feelings.
In a logistics world where long hours and shift work are par for the course fatigue is commonplace even when guidelines of fatigue management compliance are in place.
“Managing stress effectively is a big part of it both personally and professionally,” says Matthew. “It’s doable but not without management. Sometimes in fatigue management that word management is the bit we don’t take seriously enough.”
People who start the training course, which teaches sustainable behaviour and lifestyle changes, often don’t have a true understanding of what fatigue is, mistaking it, for the most part, with tiredness.
Many different factors can lead to fatigue such as problematic relationships, an unwell child, and even dehydration.
It’s important to recognise the signs of fatigue according to Matthew, no matter if you’re a forklift driver, big rig operator or using heavy machinery.
“Too many people are working in Australia in close to a fatigue state,” he says. “So much so that it eventually becomes the norm.”
In these circumstances our energy battery is inordinately depleted. Most people wouldn’t buy a mobile phone under these terms let alone drive a car.
“It happens so slowly and we’re not actually sure that’s where we’re at,” says Matthew. “But we work on an empty battery, topping it up intermittently to keep it going.”
Often this is how a dependency begins on high sugar foods and high sugar drinks.
Someone working long hours and sleeping poorly or unable to resolve issues at home will do their best to chase energy. A bad diet is a consequence of this.
Given shift work involves long hours it will push our body to its limit especially if we don’t get right what Matthew calls the ‘one percenters’ — solid sleep, diet, exercising and stretching.
Indeed these one percenters help to maintain a solid energy base which in turn enables greater wellbeing.
But if we’re having to go searching for energy constantly than there’s a problem according to Matthew, who points to night shift workers and overnight truck drivers being more susceptible to fatigue incidents.
“We shouldn’t have to be consciously trying to stay awake. Our energy should be vital and not a conscious process,” he says. “We typically wait for a crisis before we take action.”
As part of managing fatigue R&R incorporates what Matthew refers to as the ‘Three As’ — Aware, Accept and Act. Awareness is often the easy part; acceptance, however, can prove a challenge.
Most people are not willing to accept where they are at and should they be able to they’re often unwilling to accept that they need to do something about it. Matthew says there are a range of factors that influence why this next step proves so hard for some people.
Pride, for one example, intervenes in us sharing our feelings or reaching out to tell someone we are struggling.
Fear also plays a part in this as people worry that they might lose their job or be considered difficult or unfit for employment.
“A significant near-miss or an incident will motivate us as human beings to acknowledge we need to do something about it,” Matthew says. “Why do we let it get to the point we have hit a rumble strip for the third time in a night before we pullover?”
Unfortunately, it often takes for something to go wrong before we reach the acceptance stage of the Three As of Fatigue.
By then, if it’s not too late, it’s about accepting that we need to make drastic changes. It’s doable, of course, but not without management.
R&R takes a holistic approach in delivering education outcomes in managing fatigue, energy and well-being. The 3 As of Fatigue have given businesses a common language for managing fatigue according to Matthew.
A former registered nurse who moved into massage therapy in 1999 to work with heavy vehicle operators, Matthew got to understand firsthand how the toll of working long hours with a bad diet impaired their sleep and importantly affected their desire to do something about it.
At the core of Matthew’s ambition is to help look after heavy vehicle operators, given they are in one of the most dangerous occupations in Australia.
In 2008 he authored The Healthy Road Warrior, a book for truck drivers and between that year and 2014 he estimates he trained nearly 7,000 drivers. At the time the concept of wellbeing was considered fluffy and feel good.
Even now current fatigue management compliance doesn’t necessarily factor in the whole spectrum of issues when it comes to instilling preventative measures for exhaustion and fatigue and ultimately injury.
Inspired by these Aussie Road Warriors, R&R is looking to create a culture around it.
“In order to work to those schedules a person really does need to be eating well, drinking lots of water and getting as much good sleep as is possible,” he says.
“These are a solid base in which to work from when it comes to managing stressors in their lives whether they be personal or professional as one invariably impacts the other.”
Despite COVID-19 making personal engagements with businesses difficult last year, through necessity Matthew was forced to create an online course package with rich media online training. It is a blended learning model of online and face-to-face interaction.
“Any business working in fatigue management needs incredibly consistent message,” he says. “Online helps facilitate this through learning a truly common language.”
R&R Corporate Health will have an exhibit at MEGATRANS2021 in September.