Driver Fatigue Management

Driver Fatigue Management

Guest post by George Robotham from


Driver fatigue is a major problem in Australia with often incredible distances to be driven. It is made worse when people drive long distances during holiday periods. Drive in –drive out employment in the resources industry is a particular area of concern. People completing a normal shift at work and then wishing to drive long distances is particularly asking for trouble.

What is driver fatigue?

Driver fatigue, or tiredness, is a general term used to describe the experience of being “sleepy”, “tired” or “exhausted”.

The effect of fatigue is both a physiological and a psychological experience and can severely impair judgement when driving. Driver fatigue can cause lapses in concentration which could prove fatal.

Fatigue is not just a problem for drivers on long trips as any drivers can also suffer from fatigue even on short trips.

Fatigue is involved in up to 30 per cent of fatal crashes and up to 15 per cent of serious injuries requiring hospital treatment. Being awake for more than 17 hours is similar to having more than two standard drinks and having a blood alcohol content of more than 0.05.

The problem with fatigue is that it slowly develops and drivers often do not realise they’re too tired to drive safely. Drivers must learn to recognise the warning signs and take a break before it is too late.

Causes of fatigue

• Inadequate amount or quality of sleep over an extended period.

• Sustained mental or physical effort.

• Disruption of the normal cycles of daytime activity and night sleep.

• Environmental stresses during sleep (such as light, heat and noise).

• Medication (some medications cause drowsiness).

• Diagnosed or undiagnosed sleep disorders (sleep apnoea, insomnia and narcolepsy).

• Obesity/bad dietary habits.

• Night work (causes sleep implications as daytime sleep is less restorative than nocturnal sleep).

• Workload and lifestyle choices (illness, childcare, sport, socialising, studying).

How to identify fatigue

• Repeated yawning.

• Loss of attentiveness.

• Slower reaction times.

• Impaired judgement.

• Feelings of drowsiness or tiredness.

• Reduced alertness.

• Sore, red and tired eyes.

• Dim or fuzzy vision.

• Droning or humming in ears.

• Wandering, disconnected thoughts.

• Mood swings (feeling irritable and restless).

• Daydreaming.

• Muscle stiffness and cramps.

• Difficulty keeping your head up or eyes open.

• Your driving speed creeps up or down.

• You find it difficult to maintain your lane position when driving.

How to prevent fatigue

In-vehicle fatigue management strategies

• Stop regularly, at least once every two hours and take short breaks. Walk around for a while, exercise and breathe deeply.

• Counteract fatigue with regular healthy food and drink. High protein and low glycaemic index (GI) foods are best, for example, a salmon sandwich on wholegrain bread. (Avoid excessive consumption of high calorie, high fat and high GI foods such as thick shakes as these can make you drowsy).

• Carry plenty of drinking water in the vehicle.

• Wear sunglasses when driving to minimise glare.

• Do not exceed the maximum driving periods specified by legislation.

• Check what prescription medicines you are taking – some can affect your alertness or cause drowsiness. Check with your pharmacist or doctor.

General fatigue management strategies –

• Ensure adequate sleep (minimum six consecutive hours in a single 24 hour period, however the average required on a sustained basis is about seven to eight hours).

• Set up conditions at home (and the vehicle) so you can get as much sleep as possible. (Reduce noise, light and disturbances).

• Enlist family support for a peaceful environment when sleeping (particularly when sleeping in daylight).

• Stress management (work related and personal).

• Improve general health and fitness. Exercise. Avoid being overweight.

• Have regular health checks. Ensure that you do not have a sleep disorder or other medical conditions that could affect your driving ability.

• Check what prescription medicines you are taking – some can affect your alertness or cause drowsiness. Check with your pharmacist or doctor.

Reference-Qld Government Information Bulletin, PT 21/07.11, Fatigue Management

George Robotham

George Robotham

George was a Legend in the Safety World who passed away in Sept 2013 but left us with a great legacy
George Robotham
I have worked in OHS for most of my working life, many years in the mining industry including over 10 years in a corporate OHS role with BHP. Since leaving the mining industry I have worked in a variety of safety roles with a variety of employers, large & small, in a variety of industries. I was associated with my first workplace fatality at age 21, the girl involved was young, intelligent, vivacious and friendly. Such a waste! I was the first on the scene and tried to comfort her and tend to her injuries. She said to me “George, please do not let me die” We put her on the aerial ambulance to Rockhampton base hospital where she died the next day. I do not mind telling you that knocked me around for awhile. Since then I have helped my employers cope with the aftermath of 12 fatalities and 2 other life-altering events. The section "Why do Occupational Health & Safety" provides further detail but in summary, poor safety is simply very expensive and also has a massive humanitarian cost. My qualifications include a certificate I.V. in Workplace Training and Assessment, a Diploma in Frontline Management, a Diploma in Training & Assessment Systems, a Bachelor of Education (Adult & Workplace Education) , a Grad. Cert. in Management of Organisational Change and a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Hazard Management. I am currently studying towards a Masters in Business Leadership. Up until recently I had been a Chartered Fellow of the Safety Institute of Australia for 10 years and a member for about 30 years. My interest is in non-traditional methods of driving organisational change in OHS and I have what I believe is a healthy dis-respect for many common approaches to OHS Management and OHS Training. I hold what I believe is a well-founded perception that many of the things safety people and management do in safety are “displacement activities” (Displacement activities are things we do, things we put a lot of energy into, but which when we examine them closely there is no valid reason for doing them). My managerial and leadership roles in OHS have exposed me to a range of management techniques that are relevant to Business Improvement. In particular I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and quality management approaches to business. I believe leadership is the often forgotten key to excellence in most aspects of life. I hold the Australian Defence Medal and am a J.P.(Qualified). I have many fond memories of my time playing Rugby Union when I was a young bloke.

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