Avoiding the hidden dangers of exposing workers to fatigue

By Jeff Salton on April 4th, 2017
  1. Employee health & wellbeing
  2. Wellbeing Programs

Portrait of young entrepreneur driving a car while yawning and looks tired, isolated on white

I once worked for a company where the topic of ‘fatigue’ came up in a conversation with the boss about staff welfare.

He quickly admitted that he was a poor example of fatigue management, not just because he worked the odd long day in the office, but that he worked even longer hours when he travelled interstate, which was regularly.

He quoted a typical ‘travel day’ where he left home at 5.30am, drove to the airport, flew interstate, had meetings all day with staff and clients, followed by a dinner engagement, and arrived back in Melbourne at about 10.30pm. He then drove himself home, a trip that took roughly an hour.

That’s an 18-hour day, door-to-door.

The realisation dawned on most people in the room that he probably shouldn’t have driven home from the airport – that final hour in the day was probably the most dangerous time to be on the road.

He blamed himself for not organising a taxi instead of driving and said that he would definitely reconsider his options next time.

Not an isolated occurrence

Many companies have employees who are tasked with long days, especially sales reps who can spend extended hours on the road, some days ending up a long way from home at the close of the working day.

Fatigue is not just feeling tired. Fatigue is an acute or ongoing state of tiredness that results in poor judgement, slower reaction times and reduced capacity to perform a task safely. That’s a dangerous state to be in if you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle.

So, is there any legislation or other guidelines about how many hours sales representatives, for example, should be allowed to drive in a day using their own vehicles? How many rest breaks should they take?

What is your liability if workers refuse to follow developed guidelines around safe driving hours for personal reasons, e.g. family commitments? Can workers be forced to seek overnight accommodation if their driving hours exceed the company’s guidelines?

Health and safety legal expert, Michael Selinger, a partner at Holding Redlich lawyers, says: “Although there are significant guidelines regarding the management of heavy vehicle drivers (i.e. vehicles with a gross vehicle mass greater than 4.5 tonnes) under the Heavy Vehicle National Law, unfortunately there is little legislative guidance on sales representatives driving their own vehicles for work purposes.”

Michael says the Commercial Sales Award 2010 (the Award) provides that the ordinary hours of work must not exceed 10 hours on any given day. If these driving hours and other working hours exceed 10 hours, then it is likely that you will need to pay overtime in accordance with the Award.

Rest breaks

“Unfortunately, the Award does not provide any further guidance on the issue of rest breaks between driving hours,” he says.

In general, fatigue is a key risk area within the road transport industry and it is a requirement of all businesses to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that workers are not at risk of fatigue. This can be achieved by implementing systems and procedures that regulate the number of driving hours and scheduled rest breaks for workers.

Michael says that driving hours due to personal reasons would not fall within a business’s responsibility as it is outside of your scope and duty of care.

“However, it would still be important to consider the cumulative effect of these hours in combination with a worker’s regular driving hours to assess whether further action needs to be taken, e.g. providing overnight accommodation or a taxi to take the worker home,” he says.

The Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook, of which Michael is the Editor-in-Chief, has a lot more information about how you can provide a safe working environment for workers whose ‘office’ is their vehicle.

Chapters R2 Road Transport Worker Safety and F3 Fatigue Management of the Handbook offer business-owners a lot of helpful advice on caring for mobile workers.

These two chapters are among 70-plus chapters you’ll find in the Health & Safety Handbook, covering every aspect of health and safety law and how it applies to your workplace … all written in plain English by health and safety legal experts.

Order your copy today on an obligation-free trial and see how the Handbook can quickly help to simplify your business.

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