The road freight industry recorded a fatality rate of 20.46 deaths per 100,000 workers last year, according to Safe Work Australia. That's 12 times the average rate across all industries. Implementing journey management practices introduced so successfully in the oil and gas industry would drastically reduce this tragic statistic.
Running a fleet of large vehicles, covering vast distances with a limited number of drivers operating under time pressures, greatly increases the risk of serious incidents. Journey management can help manage these risks but, to be effective, needs to take into account much more than the time drivers spend behind the wheel.
It's about understanding all of the potentially hazardous factors they may encounter on any given journey. These fall into three broad categories ? driver, transport and environment. Let's look at some of the factors within each that can be controlled to some degree:
Diet - If you go to a truck stop you'll see drivers eating large, unhealthy meals without thinking of how it affects their physiology. When the stomach is filled with food, the body needs more energy to process it and this takes blood away from the brain. The heart slows down and that triggers the urge to sleep. Drivers should steer away from eating large, starchy carbohydrate meals just prior to heading out on a journey. We need sustenance to remain alert while driving but an ideal breakfast would be cereals, fruits and dairy rather than bacon, eggs and sausages.
Breaks - The heart rate slows when a driver sits prone for extended periods of time. This problem is exaggerated at times of the day when acircadian rhythm makes us feel sleepy. There's also a lack of visual stimulus when driving at night time. During the day a driver can look at scenery, billboards and other vehicles. At night time there's nothing but a strip of tarmac and the occasional set of headlights driving towards them. That's why drivers should stop for a break every two hours because it allows the body to reset. Many rural roads have 'driver reviver' stops placed two hours apart, offering free coffee as an incentive. Although this drink acts as a stimulant, it's only effective for about 15 minutes but the physical act of getting out of a vehicle has a greater effect.
Vehicle - It sounds obvious but a journey should always be made in the best vehicle for the job. This isn't a consideration that arises too often but can happen if a truck breaks down, is involved in a crash or is off the road for scheduled maintenance. A business might not have the right vehicle available so they'll use trailers or overload a smaller vehicle. This quickly becomes a hazardous situation if a driver has to back into loading docks with a trailer when they've never done it before. In a similar scenario a driver might have a licence to operate a truck that's fitted with air brakes but, if they've never driven one before, the risk of an incident increases.
Inspections ? Every driver should do a pre-start check. What fuel does the vehicle take and does it have enough in the tank for this journey? Does it have sufficient oil and screen wash, are there any leaks in the cooling system, and are all of the electrics working? Does it have a cracked windscreen? How does the tyre tread look and are they all inflated to the right pressure?? Are there any bulges or cracks in the tyre wall? Pool vehicles are often shared between drivers running different shifts so a pre-start check stops a driver inheriting problems from their predecessor.
Loads - There are mandatory weigh bridges for heavy trucks but some operators will try to circumvent those checks if they know they're running heavy. A less obvious danger comes from people with normal licences being allowed to drive pretty large vehicles. This heightens the risk of an incident if a driver doesn't know about load security or how to load properly for weight distribution. Loading too much weight at the back of a trailer can cause loss of traction. If the trailer is heavier than the towing vehicle it can dictate what that vehicle does. These issues dramatically affect vehicle handling.
Time - Pressures created by time are a major factor in road safety. When a driver sets off on a journey must take into account where they're leaving from, planned destination, expected route and length of journey. Nobody should be allowed to work all day and then head out on a 10-hour journey at midnight. Is the driver going through the centre of a large city during peak-hour traffic? Will they be heading straight into the sun for four hours if they leave now rather than waiting until tomorrow morning?? These are the sort of conditions to be avoided wherever possible.
Passengers - Monash University research says a driver is 60 per cent more likely to be involved in a serious incident if they have one passenger; this risk more than doubles for two passengers. Yet if a passenger has been educated they become an asset rather than a potential distraction. They can be responsible for monitoring driver alertness. If they see or feel any signs that something is amiss they should ask the driver to pull over and take a break. In some circumstances the passenger is also a driver and can take over if the primary driver becomes ill or overly tired.
Weather - If a driver is headed driving west at 4pm and has a few hours left to travel, it's a good idea to take a break while the sun is on the horizon. Technology allows us to forecast weather conditions with some accuracy. If a fleet manager knows a vehicle is moving into a hazardous environment they can alert the driver and suggest a safe location to ride out the weather pattern.
The principal ideal of journey management is to challenge the need for every trip. The oil and gas industry takes this very seriously, knowing that reducing the amount of time drivers spend on the road network greatly reduces exposure to risk. Many of them profile every journey before deciding whether it's an acceptable risk, with journey management centres issuing approvals before every planned trip. Completed journeys go through a management process and overdue journeys are escalated. This is a gold standard. The human factor can never be fully mitigated but we have a responsibility to make every journey as safe as possible.