Off-road fa­tigue fac­tors

Drivers un­able get a de­cent rest when out of hours are fa­tigued be­fore they even get be­hind the wheel

Owner Driver - - From The Ata Council - John Beer

IT SEEMS A BIT IRONIC that last month’s edi­tion of Owner//Driver had a theme of health and safety, be­cause health and safety is the ba­sis of most of what gets in the way of trans­porters do­ing their job and it’s 99 per cent of what the Live­stock and Ru­ral Trans­porters As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria (LRTAV) and I have been try­ing to get fixed for 30-odd years and count­ing. Health and safety is ac­tu­ally never off my mind and the time has come for fix­ing and not talk­ing.

It was good to see the sun come up as usual on Oc­to­ber 1. The date that we’ve all been hearing about for months has come and gone. From my ob­ser­va­tion not a lot has hap­pened or changed as yet. Who knows, there is prob­a­bly a lot go­ing on be­hind the scenes, but un­til drivers and op­er­a­tors see re­sults from the Chain of Re­spon­si­bil­ity leg­isla­tive changes there will be scep­tics and dis­ap­pointed peo­ple.

Of­ten I use the phrase “off-road fa­tigue” and I’m not sure if I have ex­plained this. Off-road fa­tigue is all the prob­lems and safety is­sues that face a driver or op­er­a­tor when they aren’t be­hind the wheel. Ev­ery­one seems to agree it’s a prob­lem, but no-one wants to own the prob­lems or agree that it’s their job to fix them, least of all the re­spon­si­ble par­ties that own the con­sign­ment or the fa­cil­ity that causes the is­sues.

Some safety prob­lems are big and easy to see, but there are also the at­ti­tudes, prej­u­dices and be­hav­iours that some­times are harder to ad­dress. Big things are road qual­ity and de­sign, and ei­ther poorly de­signed or badly main­tained fa­cil­i­ties.

Queu­ing and wait­ing af­fects nearly ev­ery driver, no mat­ter what you cart. In­suf­fi­cient park­ing bays or safe stop­ping spots are oth­ers. And in my sec­tor, hav­ing to push an­i­mals up or down badly main­tained or down­right dan­ger­ous load­ing ramps is a spe­cial kind of hell. Some­times you phys­i­cally man­han­dle them one by one, of­ten by your­self.

What about toi­lets and show­ers where you un­load, or even hav­ing some lights where you might want to wash the truck out if they even have a truck wash, and if it’s func­tion­ing that day?

Then we come to the is­sues of at­ti­tude and be­hav­iour of other par­ties. There are many who be­lieve that th­ese prob­lems are just part of the job; that if you choose to be a trans­porter or driver then you just need to wait, or ac­cept the prob­lems with­out com­plaint. But when you can’t wash your truck out and then you face fines for ef­flu­ent breaches be­cause you didn’t want to il­le­gally let your tanks go, then it feels a bit like be­ing backed into a cor­ner. Or when you have to wait hours to load stock out of a ru­ral sa­le­yards be­cause there are only one or two ramps, so when you do get loaded you’re al­ready out of hours less than half­way to the des­ti­na­tion. What then?

Have you ever tried to sleep in a prime mover with a trailer of cat­tle or sheep on board? I have and it didn’t do much for my fa­tigue level. Plus you know the an­i­mals are thirsty, hun­gry and tired. So what is the an­swer there? Put in more ramps of course, have some­where cool for drivers to rest and have enough peo­ple help­ing get the stock onto trucks. Of course not, we’re told that’s too hard and too ex­pen­sive. “Just sched­ule your trip bet­ter” is their re­sponse ev­ery time!

When drivers com­plain or voice con­cerns on-site they are of­ten abused or threat­ened with be­ing banned from fa­cil­i­ties. But mostly they are just told that’s how it is, get over it, harden up, don’t do it if you don’t like it.

So yes, we need to work within laws and reg­u­la­tion. En­force­ment is in­ter­ested in our fa­tigue, our work di­ary, our truck and trailer. But what about the sit­u­a­tion we faced be­fore we even started driv­ing? Who will help us next time we have to go back to an un­safe site or made to wait for hours? We are told to raise our con­cerns with the fa­cil­ity and you know the rest of that story.

We have no des­ig­nated off-road po­lice­man, and so fix­ing things is a mine­field and black hole of bu­reau­cracy, buck-pass­ing and de­nial. There are hot­lines to ring, but un­for­tu­nately many think th­ese com­plaints go nowhere or be­lieve it’s about the pub­lic dob­bing in truck drivers.

We’ve also heard about the Code of Prac­tice, but I’m still con­cerned that even at 100 pages or less it can’t fix ev­ery­thing if we keep ig­nor­ing the causes of fa­tigue and own­er­ship of fix­ing safety. And it’s a sad fact that the only way oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety man­agers and re­spon­si­ble par­ties sit up and take no­tice is when some­one sadly loses their life or gets badly hurt.

The Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ATA) did a good job work­ing with the min­is­ters, states and reg­u­la­tor to try and help stream­line drought hay de­liv­er­ies, but it took a long time be­cause it was a big thing to get all states and min­is­ters agree­ing. I’d love to see more of this ef­fort on off-road fa­tigue be­cause the ATA is of­ten crit­i­cised by some as be­ing big and pow­er­ful so I reckon it’s time we used this power to get things fixed. If we all agree that most of the trans­port sec­tor is made up of small op­er­a­tors, well they need the most help to fix is­sues so let’s just do it.

When I at­tended the ALC ATA Safety Sum­mit in Mel­bourne, not many peo­ple came out and ac­tu­ally spoke about the is­sues be­ing faced by drivers and op­er­a­tors, de­spite ev­ery­one who reg­is­tered to at­tend ob­vi­ously agree­ing that safety was im­por­tant. The fact is that peo­ple have to speak up, and those who rep­re­sent the small op­er­a­tors need to ac­tu­ally ac­knowl­edge there are prob­lems so they can be fixed. It was dis­ap­point­ing to be one of a very small num­ber of voices try­ing to shed some light on the re­al­i­ties of what we face ev­ery day in our job. I just hope some­one was lis­ten­ing.

“Queu­ing and wait­ing af­fects nearly ev­ery driver.”

JOHN BEER, with four decades as an owner­op­er­a­tor un­der his belt, is a for­mer pres­i­dent of the LRTAV and ALRTA. John is cur­rently the owner-driver rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the ATA Coun­cil.

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