Off-road fatigue factors
Drivers unable get a decent rest when out of hours are fatigued before they even get behind the wheel
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.