Hot topic for truck­ies

It’s sum­mer in one of the hottest coun­tries on the planet with some of the long­est work­ing hours for truck­ies. So what are the rules on bunkrooms, cab bunk cool­ing and day cabs run­ning long dis­tance? Steve Skin­ner writes

Owner Driver - - News -

WITH THE ad­vent of air-con­di­tioned sin­gle bunk rooms and in­te­grated sleeper cabs, it’s easy to for­get just how tough long-dis­tance truck driv­ers used to do it in the old days.

Shar­ing a bunkroom with a dozen other fart­ing, snor­ing blokes with maybe a swiv­el­ling fan for relief; heads hang­ing out of dog-box doors to get a bit of fresh air; swags un­der the trailer; stretch­ing out across the bench seat; and so on.

Thank heav­ens that’s all just a thing of the past, right? Well, no.

There’s no doubt sleep­ing con­di­tions have greatly im­proved in many ways for many long-dis­tance driv­ers, to the point of sin­gle mo­tel rooms be­ing com­monly pro­vided. But there are still some prim­i­tive cases out there.

Take some dealer and op­er­a­tor bunkrooms. We’ve pre­vi­ously re­ported on shared bunkrooms in deal­er­ships and de­pots which are right next to the noisy TV/lunch room or clang­ing work­shop; and even one which other driv­ers had to walk through to go to the toi­let. That’s not to men­tion de­mount­able bunkrooms right next to trucks and fork­lifts com­ing and go­ing all day, with no sound bar­rier in be­tween.

At least bunkrooms mostly seem to be air-con­di­tioned th­ese days.

How­ever, there are still some long-dis­tance sleeper cabs with no air cool­ing what­so­ever, even though the truck’s driver might need to sleep in them dur­ing the day – for ex­am­ple, if they’re wait­ing for a changeover or can’t get back to base, or sim­ply have a pen­nypinch­ing boss.

Try that in the mid­dle of a swel­ter­ing sum­mer day, know­ing there is no need for it. And re­mem­ber, there is a lot more night driv­ing and at­tempted day sleep­ing than in the old days.

In those some­times im­pos­si­ble sum­mer con­di­tions, our ad­vice is to crank up the 550hp air-con­di­tioner un­der the bon­net. (If you do that, it’s widely ad­vised to lift the en­gine idling revs to about 1200rpm so you don’t glaze the bore.)

Ditto if you’re un­lucky enough to need to sleep in a day cab truck.

We’ve no­ticed what seems to be an in­creas­ing num­ber of th­ese on long-dis­tance and even in­ter­state work, and they are usu­ally owned by the big­ger fleets.

You can bet the com­pany man­agers who send driv­ers out in th­ese day cabs have never ex­pe­ri­enced a de­layed changeover, or a break­down half­way up the high­way, or sim­ply needed a 20-minute power nap to keep them­selves go­ing in the early hours of the morn­ing.

One day-cab driver we spoke to al­ways car­ries an over­sized bag so he can stuff it be­tween the seats and stretch out if he needs to sleep. And he has no hes­i­ta­tion in run­ning the truck air-con.

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL

So what do all the gov­ern­ment agen­cies, peak truck­ing and cus­tomer bod­ies, and univer­sity ex­perts have to say about sleep­ing con­di­tions for truck­ies in the Aus­tralian sum­mer?

From what we’ve been able to see and hear, noth­ing. As far as we can tell, among what seems like mil­lions of words on fa­tigue, there are no stan­dards what­so­ever for bunkrooms, sleeper air cool­ing or the use of day cabs.

The Aus­tralian De­sign Rules for new trucks have all sorts of rules for sleeper cabs, but don’t say any­thing about cool­ing.

There are dozens of pages of guide­lines for op­er­a­tors ac­cred­ited un­der the ba­sic and ad­vanced fa­tigue man­age­ment schemes – and reams of pa­per­work they have to fill out – but the term ‘air-con­di­tion­ing’ doesn’t rate a men­tion.

Nei­ther do the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s (ATA) Truck­Safe nor the Aus­tralian Lo­gis­tics Coun­cil’s Re­tail Lo­gis­tics Safety Code spec­ify any­thing about a cool sleep­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Mean­while, day cabs seem to en­joy just as good a rego deal as sleeper cabs un­der the Fed­eral In­ter­state Reg­is­tra­tion Scheme (FIRS). And there’s noth­ing spe­cific about bunkrooms or sleeper berths un­der the chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity leg­is­la­tion on fa­tigue, al­though we reckon poor sleep­ing con­di­tions could make for a very in­ter­est­ing test case one day.

In fact, the only spe­cific rule or of­fi­cial piece of ad­vice we can find any­where is that, ac­cord­ing to re­ports on the in­ter­net, trucks in West­ern Aus­tralia have to have air­con­di­tion­ing if op­er­at­ing north of the 26th par­al­lel be­tween Oc­to­ber 1 and March 31. We don’t know if that in­cludes sleeper air-con or not.

The WA Depart­ment of Trans­port didn’t know any­thing about it when we emailed them, and sug­gested we con­tact WorkSafe. We couldn’t find any­thing on the WorkSafe web­site and, like many busy truck­ing op­er­a­tors, we didn’t bother call­ing.

BEAUT BUNKROOMS

So, in the ab­sence of any of­fi­cial guid­ance, here’s what some of the

best in the busi­ness are do­ing to en­sure driv­ers get the de­cent sleep they need and de­serve.

Firstly to in­di­vid­ual air­con­di­tioned bunkrooms, which for­tu­nately seems to be a grow­ing trend. We have been told about each of the fol­low­ing from driv­ers who have ben­e­fited from them.

First prize goes to Wes­tar Truck Cen­tre at Der­rimut in Mel­bourne. Wes­tar is a dealer for Isuzu, West­ern Star, MAN and Den­nis Ea­gle.

Not only are the rooms quiet and dark, with tow­els and linen pro­vided, but they each have their own toi­let and shower as well. There is free WiFi, a self-ser­vice cap­puc­cino maker, and even com­pli­men­tary con­ti­nen­tal break­fast.

Gil­bert and Roach at Hunt­ing­wood in Syd­ney (Isuzu and Ken­worth) also has in­di­vid­ual rooms well lo­cated away from noise gen­er­ated by the work­shop and wait­ing day driv­ers.

So too does Wes­trac Cater­pil­lar at Hex­ham in the Hunter Val­ley, with a big TV lounge area, laun­dry, and even com­puter ter­mi­nals along an of­fice-style bench.

COOL SLEEP­ERS

There is no peak body for bunk air cool­ing sup­pli­ers, so we vis­ited sup­plier Truck Art at Wagga Wagga in south­ern NSW on the cross­roads be­tween Syd­ney, Mel­bourne, Ade­laide and Bris­bane.

Owner Terry Gibbs also has cooler in­stal­la­tion work­shops in Ade­laide, Mel­bourne and Perth.

One of his early ven­tures was man­u­fac­tur­ing sleeper cabs in the days be­fore wide­spread bunk air cool­ing, about 15 years ago.

“It was a no-brainer for me to see the in­dus­try needed some­thing in the sleeper cabin,” says Terry, who sold his first Viesa to Pater­son’s Trans­port at nearby Nar­ran­dera.

“I still re­mem­ber the driver, he was an older bloke, com­ing in af­ter it had been fit­ted and thank­ing me. He said, ‘This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to have a proper sleep in sum­mer.’

“It wasn’t long be­fore peo­ple had to have it, and I think the main thing is it was fa­tigue man­age­ment … and that helps over­all with in­sur­ance costs be­cause tired driv­ers have ac­ci­dents.

“Driv­ers ex­pect it to­day. Once it was a lux­ury but now they need it and, not only that, I think if there was an ac­ci­dent due to a man not sleep­ing, and he didn’t have air cool­ing, the com­pany could have some­thing to an­swer for.”

NO IDEAL SO­LU­TION

Truck Art’s cheap­est prod­uct is the evap­o­ra­tive Viesa cooler, man­u­fac­tured in Ar­gentina and a com­mon sight on Aus­tralian roads th­ese days.

They are priced at up to $3600 in­stalled, with the an­nual ser­vice to clean the fil­ters and so on cost­ing about $150.

Terry says that, con­trary to some opin­ion, a small amount of hu­mid­ity can’t pos­si­bly rot the cabin; the wa­ter drains back into the tank on the back of the cab when not in use; and the unit can’t run the truck bat­tery flat be­cause there is a cut- off mech­a­nism when the volt­age gets too low.

He says of course there can be prob­lems with cool air qual­ity and quan­tity if Viesas aren’t cleaned for four or five years, “which we of­ten see”.

There seem to be sev­eral ad­van­tages of an evap­o­ra­tive sys­tem over the next one up in the peck­ing or­der – a bat­tery- op­er­ated re­frig­er­a­tive sys­tem such as the Pure Air or Koolkat, which Truck Art sup­plies.

Terry says a Viesa uses only eight amps of power per hour, and will give the driver a sleep on a very hot day by at least blow­ing moist air over them.

On the other hand, a bat­tery re­frig­er­a­tive sys­tem draws a lot more power and may not be able to over­come an ex­tremely hot day at all.

Th­ese can run for be­tween four and seven hours de­pend­ing on how hard the com­pres­sor is work­ing, and Terry says they are best suited to night time or a few hours dur­ing the day.

They cost from about $5000 to $9000 for a unit with its own bat­ter­ies and big enough to cope with a big- cab Ken­worth for half the day in the sun; and they are more ex­pen­sive to main­tain than evap­o­ra­tives, for ex­am­ple, with gassing.

“It’s horses for cour­ses and some peo­ple love them,” Terry says, adding the truck needs to be driven for as long as the air- con has been run­ning to charge the bat­ter­ies, whether the unit runs off the truck or is in­de­pen­dent.

Top of the range of course is diesel- pow­ered re­frig­er­a­tive air­con­di­tion­ing, such as the well­known Icepack, which now of­fers a 1000-hour ex­tended ser­vice in­ter­val.

Truck Art’s of­fer­ing is the Ecowind, with sin­gle- cylin­der Lom­bar­dini en­gine us­ing about 700ml of fuel an hour and cost­ing be­tween $10,500 and $13,000 de­pend­ing where on the truck it is fit­ted.

The Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s Volvo Safety Truck runs one of th­ese.

As the ATA points out, in 2013, af­ter its lob­by­ing ef­forts, the Tax Of­fice ruled that the fuel used in truck sleeper cab air- con­di­tion­ers is now tax free.

As a re­sult, the ATA es­ti­mates

truck­ing busi­nesses could save up to $300 per truck per year.

Diesel-pow­ered units can pump out cold air in­def­i­nitely if need be, re­gard­less of the out­side heat, but their down­side, of course, is noise for other truck­ies try­ing to sleep nearby.

The Ecowind is rel­a­tively quiet at 60 deci­bels, but Terry ac­knowl­edges the noise is­sue is be­com­ing a prob­lem.

“We are find­ing in cer­tain ar­eas now, es­pe­cially up to­wards Queens­land, there are ser­vice sta­tions with signs say­ing you are not to run air-con­di­tion­ing mo­tors when you’re stopped.”

The bot­tom line from all this on sleeper air cool­ing? “There’s no per­fect prod­uct out there yet.”

“The in­dus­try needed some­thing in the sleeper cabin”

Not snook­ered – Gil­bert and Roach has good fa­cil­i­ties for wait­ing driv­ers

Well cam­ou­flaged – a diesel-pow­ered Icepack

A diesel-pow­ered ‘Ecowind’ sys­tem on the ATA’s Volvo safety truck

Re­lax­ing in air-con­di­tioned com­fort at Wes­trac Hex­ham

Above Right: Relief from the heat – the Viesa out­let inside the cab

Right: Two ex­am­ples of com­fort­able driver bed­rooms. The Wes­trac bed­room (left) even has a slim­line wardrobe; and (right) inside Wes­tar’s Suite 4 at Wes­tar Truck Cen­tre Der­rimut

Above: A Koolkat re­frig­er­a­tive air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tem

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