An element of fatigue compliance under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) is making sure that drivers are fit to drive, in the sense that they are not being adversely affected by fatigue. This obligation may also arise under general Work Health and Safety (WHS) law, as well as being an overriding general obligation to ensure the safety of all participants in the road transport industry.
Driver fatigue is a safety hazard. Most readers will be well aware of the causes of fatigue, but some may be less conscious of the implications. Under the HVNL and WHS laws, all parties in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) need to take a proactive approach to managing their responsibilities, including assessing a driver’s fitness to drive.
The National Transport Commission (NTC) assisted in the publication of a document titled Assessing fitness to drive for commercial and private vehicle drivers. Although the publication is tailored towards health professionals, and details medical standards for driver licensing purposes, it is useful for the heavy vehicle industry in understanding the issue.
The report identifies many factors that can affect drivers. These include the driver’s experience, training and attitude; the driver’s physical and mental health (including fatigue and the effect of prescription and non-prescription drugs); the natural environment; vehicle and equipment characteristics; work-related multitasking and vehicle issues including size, stability and load distribution.
In addition, there are further commercial considerations for heavy vehicle drivers under the HVNL, which include (but are not limited to):
- Business requirements: Rosters (shifts), driver training and contractual demands;
- Legal requirements: Work diaries and licensing procedures;
- Vehicle issues: Size, stability and load distribution;
- Passenger requirements/issues; and
- Endurance/fatigue and vigilance: Demands associated with spending long periods on the road.
How can we test a driver’s fitness to drive?
Unfortunately, it is not simple to test drivers for fatigue, because driver fitness can manifest very differently. Depending on the individual situation, your assessments should generally involve evaluating some or all of the following:
- The need for specialised equipment or vehicle modifications;
- The driver’s ability to control the motor vehicle;
- The driver’s functional status, including cognitive function, physical strength and skills, reaction time, insight level and ability to self-monitor their driving;
- The driver’s lifestyle and the nature, frequency and requirement for driving; and
- The driver’s understanding and application of road laws.
One way to evaluate the above (in particular (a) and (d)) is to have your driver fill in a self-assessment form, such as a driver health questionnaire. This will help identify conditions that might affect a person’s capacity to drive safely and is a starting point regarding the person’s fitness to drive a commercial vehicle until a full clinical examination can be performed.
What can you ask your driver?
There are some simple key questions that you can ask your driver before undertaking any work-related tasks include:
- how are you feeling?
- did you have sufficient sleep?
- when was your last working shift?
- when is your next working shift?
- have you consumed any alcohol or drugs in the last 24 hours?
These questions appear obvious but they are often overlooked, and they can prevent unnecessary accidents/incidents from occurring. As an operator, loading manager, scheduler and consignor, maintaining a good working relationship with your drivers is essential and will help you in complying with your obligations under the HVNL.
What should you be looking for?
Certain drivers will not feel comfortable speaking the truth if they are aware of the ramifications. Therefore, it is also important that you make thorough physical observations of drivers from a fatigue perspective. Without having a health professional on site to conduct a medical examination of the driver’s fitness for duty, you could look at:
- the driver’s posture while they are standing. If they are slouched and appear without energy, it may suggest that they are not alert and are unfit to drive;
- the driver’s eyes – look for frequent blinking and/or droopy eyelids, which can suggest a lack of sleep; and
- the breath of the driver – does it smell of alcohol?
If you have an unfit driver who is involved in an accident, the implications for the driver and the company can be significant – you could face not only civil but also criminal liability. Therefore, it is essential that companies have adequate systems and procedures in place to monitor, detect and test a driver’s fitness to drive.
Finally, drivers themselves should be concerned to ensure that they are fit to drive. Apart from exposing themselves and others to risk of injury, drivers who drive knowing that they are unfit may also expose themselves to penalty or civil liability in the event of an accident.
For more information from the transport legal experts at Holding Redlich, including Editor-in-Chief Nathan Cecil, subscribe today to CoR Adviser.
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