Managing driver fatigue

By 30th March 2020Tips and Blogs

Employers and business drivers may often overlook driver fatigue, using coffee as a quick fix or ignoring the warning signs that it’s beginning to take hold. However, the recent prosecution of a contractor after two men suffering with fatigue died behind the wheel not only shows the human cost of this negligence, but also acts as a warning to employers that their duty of care to drivers extends to the successful management of driver fatigue.

But what advice can be given to both employers and drivers to help mitigate the risks associated with driver fatigue? After all, with 20% of crashes being caused by tiredness¹, is the problem too widespread to avoid? The answer is no; there are many steps that both parties can take to help reduce the chances of driving whilst fatigued.

Advice for employers

  • Manage driver hours. For drivers of HGVs or PCVs there are strict limits set out in law, but what about other employees for whom driving is integral to their job role? How much time do they spend driving, and is this time always taken into account as part of their working hours? Consider how fatigue might affect an employee’s ability to drive, and also the potential impact on their ability to carry out other tasks in safety. Before assigning a job or appointment to a remote worker, consider the total time required for them to complete the job, including the time required to drive to and from the location. If they are nearing the end of long working day, might it be safer to reschedule the job for the following day, or to assign it to another worker? Taking such considerations into account will help you to ensure that workers do not succumb to the effects of fatigue.
  • Spot the signs of fatigue. If you notice any of these symptoms of fatigue² in your drivers, it’s worth reconsidering whether they are fit to drive:
    • chronic tiredness or sleepiness
    • impaired decision-making and judgement
    • headaches
    • moodiness, such as irritability
    • dizziness
    • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
    • sore or aching muscles
    • appetite loss
    • muscle weakness
    • short-term memory problems
    • slowed reflexes and responses
    • poor concentration
    • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand
    • low motivation
  • Fatigue risk assessments. As with any other hazard, employers need to ensure they conduct a sufficient and suitable risk assessment to manage driver fatigue, including looking at shift patterns and putting systems in place to control fatigue risks. Employers can use tools such as a fatigue risk index to identify when fatigue risks are high and should not allow drivers to get behind the wheel in these periods. Click here to learn more.

Advice for drivers

  • Speak to your managers. The recent prosecution of Renown revealed that no consideration was given to the working patterns of the drivers killed. If you’re not safe to drive be honest with yourself and your employer; if you don’t, you’re endangering your own life and the life of other road users.
  • Ensuring that you are well-rested before getting behind the wheel will help you reduce the possibility of micro-sleeps. These are short episode of drowsiness or sleep that could last a fraction of a second or 30 seconds. At 70 mph a vehicle will travel 31 meters per second, meaning the risk of a crash is high even during a very short micro-sleep.
  • The effects of losing one or two hours of sleep a night on a regular basis can lead to chronic sleepiness over time. Try to avoid driving after a period of insufficient sleep, and make sure you are feeling fit and healthy before setting off.
  • Take breaks. Splitting up long stretches of motorway driving can help to avoid drowsiness. It’s good practise to stop at least every 200 miles or 2 hours of driving, making sure to stop before the fatigue sets in.
  • If necessary, plan an overnight stop. If you feel too tired to carry on driving, then book yourself into a hotel at the next service station and sleep it off. Wake up fresh with a good breakfast and carry on with your journey.
  • Coffee with caution. It’s good to note that a high-caffeine drink may be a quick fix, but it is not a long-term solution and certainly no substitute for proper sleep.
  • Avoid driving in the evening. If possible, avoid the two peak times for sleepiness between 3-5am and 2-4pm where our natural sleep cycle makes us more prone to feeling tired.
  • If you have taken prescribed medication, then seek advice from your GP as to whether you should be driving or not. If bought over the counter, then read the instructions on the pack or speak to a pharmacist.

If you’d like further guidance, take a look at our Toolbox Talks, offering a specific driver fatigue module that teaches best practice when it comes to avoiding fatigue. Contact us today to find out more.

¹Source: Department for Transport (2011) ‘Fatigue and Road Safety: A Critical Analysis of Recent Evidence


Peter Williams

Author Peter Williams

Marketing Executive at IAM RoadSmart

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