The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Driver fatigue in heavy haulage vehicles

Graham Marshall - Saturday, May 12, 2012

An Australian road safety study recently published by the Journal of Sleep found that 41 pr cent of Australia's truck drivers suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).

The study found that road safety is seriously impacted, increasing the drivers’ risk of crashing by up to seven-fold.

The research team surveyed 517 commercial truck drivers in NSW and Western Australian over 20 months.

Of the 517 drivers surveyed, only 12 per cent reported feeling tiredness using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS), the only self diagnosing questionnaire currently used for assessing sleep patterns during drivers' medical tests.

But the research went on to indicate that 16 per cent of the drivers surveyed were categorized as having severe cases of OSA.

The researchers concluded that the questionnaires alone were not sufficient to assess drivers’ crash risk during medical examinations.

Professor Mark Stevenson, the director of Melbourne’s Monash University Accident Research Centre, said the current licensing requirements would not identify those with sleep disorders.

We know there is an elevated risk of crashing in drivers with untreated OSA, therefore it is important that truck drivers – behind the wheels of the largest vehicles on the road network, at times with combustible freight – should be tested with a diagnostic tool that does not rely on self reporting”.

Industry body - the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) fully reported the study’s conclusions.

ATA Communications manager Bill McKinley said the association in 2009 recommended diagnostic testing for truck drivers to the National Transport Commission (NTC) which develops licensing guidelines.

He said, however, the recommendation from the ATA was ignored in the most recent guidelines, in place since March 1st 2012.

The Risk Management Toolbox fully agrees that there should be a diagnostic tool for sleep apnoea included in the medical standards for truck drivers.

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