The National Transport Commission (NTC) and the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC) have released the results of a world-first study into heavy vehicle driver fatigue.
The two-year scientific study evaluated alertness monitoring technology and the impacts of work shifts on driver alertness. It analysed shift starting time, the number of consecutive shifts, shift length, shift rotation, rest breaks and their likely impact on driver drowsiness and fatigue.
Spokesperson and theme leader for the Alertness CRC Associate Professor Mark Howard said the research involved a study of more than 300 heavy vehicle driver shifts both in-vehicle and in a laboratory, as well as 150,000 samples of retrospective data.
“We found that slow eye and eyelid movements, longer blink duration and prolonged eye closure are reliable predictors of drowsiness and fatigue,” Associate Professor Howard said.
The study also confirmed the scientific link between alertness and drowsiness patterns associated with specific work shifts for heavy vehicle driving.
NTC chief executive officer Dr Gillian Miles said these findings will inform future fatigue policy as part of the NTC-led review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).
“This is critical new evidence that will ultimately help to decrease heavy vehicle fatigue risk at a time when the nation’s freight task is expected to double by 2030,” Dr Miles said.
The Alertness CRC conducted the research as part of a wider collaboration, including the NTC, the Australian Government, Transport for NSW, Austin Health, Monash University, the Institute for Breathing and Sleep and the heavy vehicle industry.
The summary report and an infographic of the key research findings are available on the NTC website.
Key research findings
Greatest alertness levels can be achieved under current standard driving hours for shifts starting between 6am – 8am, including all rest breaks.
Greatest risk of an increase in drowsiness occurs:
After 15 hours of day driving when a driver starts a shift before 9am).
After 6–8 hours of night driving (when a driver starts a shift in the afternoon or evening).
After 5 consecutive shifts when driving again for over 13 hours.
When driving an early shift that starts after midnight and before 6am.
During the first 1-2 night shifts a driver undertakes and during long night shift sequences.
When a driver undertakes a backward shift rotation (from an evening, back to afternoon, or an afternoon back to a morning start).
After long shift sequences of more than seven shifts.
During nose-to-tail shifts where a seven-hour break only enables five hours of sleep – a duration previously associated with a three-fold increased risk for motor vehicle accidents.
Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) director and chief operating officer Phil Taylor has renewed calls for stakeholders to consider employment and the future prosperity of the transport and logistics sector after conducting an in-depth review of the latest Census employment data.
Mr Taylor said the figures within the data addressing transport and logistics employment highlight the industry’s current workforce is ageing, and not growing in line with the rising demand for freight.
“The release of more detailed Census data in October last year provides even more compelling insights into the transport and logistics sector, and the picture it paints is cause for reflection,” Mr Taylor said.
“In the 2001 Census, the average age of Transport and Storage workers was 35 to 44 years. In last year’s Census, the average Transport, Postal and Warehousing employee had aged to be between 45 and 54 years old.
“We need to ensure that the operational knowledge of the current generation of transport and logistics professionals isn’t lost forever. The industry needs to start having the tough conversations about what can be done so a younger crop of professionals can inherit the wisdom of the industry’s current employees.”
Mr Taylor’s calls come in the wake of figures projecting significant, sustained growth in the national freight task. The National Road Transport Association has modelled predictions that forecast Australia’s transport will increase by 26 per cent from 2016 to 2026.
“Over the 15 years where the freight task grew by 40 per cent, Census data shows employment in the Transport, Storage and Warehousing sector grew by 28 per cent,” he said.
“A range of factors is driving the sustained growth of the freight task. It’s imperative the transport and logistics sector has the right people in place to ensure this growth isn’t hindered.
Mr Taylor urged federal and state governments to work with transport industry bodies to address the situation.
“Worker shortages in the transport and logistics sector will impact on all Australians. An issue this broad needs a collaborative effort to generate innovative and meaningful solutions,” he said.
“In what is a clear positive, we’re starting to see that government initiatives can have a real impact in helping to create career pathways within our industry. The $760 million Youth Jobs PaTH program announced in the federal 2016/17 budget has created a circumstance where transport companies can partner with the Department of Employment to establish trial programs within the industry that aim to deliver tangible solutions in response to one of the most significant issues our industry is presently facing.
“The reality is that hiring employees is an expense for companies, and that many small to medium operators in the transport and logistics sector aren’t willing to take it on, especially if they feel any new employee might not be equipped with the skills necessary to hit the ground running. Anything that can be done to address concerns of this nature will be hugely beneficial to the industry as a whole.”
He said the statistics around industry employment like those included in the 2016 Census data highlighted how necessary it is for those discussions to commence sooner rather than later.
“Our industry has a responsibility to the wider Australian community to be able to deliver vital services. To do this effectively we need to start talking about how we can bolster our industry with a new breed of professionals,” Mr Taylor said.
“Working to improve career pathways into the sector and developing meaningful partnerships with government bodies to address this issue will help ensure the vital contributions our industry makes within Australian society do not waiver and that the transport and logistics sector continues to prosper.”
Some road transport driver categories are to be removed from the list of eligible occupations for the temporary business subclass 457 visa program as changes come into effect from July 1 this year.
The changes follow the final report to government of the Trucking Industry Working Group, endorsed by immigration minister Chris Evans.
Based on submissions from interested and relevant parties, the report found that while slight growth was expected for the occupation of truck driver over the next five years, the program is insufficient to provide the industry with a permanent solution to workforce issues.
Also among the findings was the lack of uniformity across Australia in licensing requirements for heavy vehicle drivers, which is causing confusion among employers.
The report recommended that the immigration minister agrees to remove access to the subclass 457 visa for the occupation of driver and to explore options for the permanent entry of overseas truck drivers.
To mitigate workplace issues, the report also said Austroads needs to expedite the implementation of policy, which requires overseas visitors who intend to drive a vehicle for commercial purpose to obtain an Australian-issued licence prior to commencing employment.
The 457 visa program has previously entailed eight areas of employment including driving, logistic management, warehousing, automotive computer control systems and trailer construction and repair.