Focus on fatigue management and wellness can pay dividends

The trucking industry is no stranger to tickets for drivers who exceed their allowable hours of service, but the recent note on one carrier’s CSA 2010 profile demonstrates a new kind of focus on driver fatigue.

A Minnesota Department of Transportation officer had pulled over one of the fleet’s trucks after watching the vehicle weave within its lane, and cited the driver for operating a commercial vehicle while ill or fatigued -even though the truck never crossed the dotted line and the logbook itself was in order.

Those who designed the CSA 2010 system have placed an obvious emphasis on making sure that drivers are alert whenever they sit behind a wheel. The new rating system for cross-border truckers assigns the maximum number of points to fatigue-related issues, so violations will quickly reach allowable thresholds. And US regulators are even thinking about mandating tests to identify commercial drivers who have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which leads to the irregular breathing that can wreak havoc with sleep patterns.

It is easy to understand why this focus has emerged.

Research has shown a direct link between highway safety and this sleep-depriving medical condition. Drivers with severe sleep apnea are even believed to be 460% more likely to be involved in a crash than their rested co-workers.

The potential savings are not limited to collision-related costs, either, according to a recent study led by Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, the chief medical officer of Waste Management. This research found that drivers who were treated for OSA averaged a $5,800 drop in health plan costs over two years, lost fewer days at work, and represented lower short-term disability costs.

The savings may not end there. US lawyers have already been raising the spectre of sleep apnea when trying to establish the grounds for negligence after a collision, and they will be happy to strengthen a court case against a fleet by pointing out the lack of a written fatigue management program in a driver’s manual.

This makes a fleet’s efforts to support driver wellness a matter of demonstrating due diligence, and a key component of any high-risk driver strategy.

There is no denying the fact that a driver’s overall wellness can have an impact on fleet safety. Healthy and fit drivers are simply more alert at the wheel and less prone to workplace-related injuries. Luckily, there are steps that fleets can take to help improve the overall health of their drivers.

Driver manuals and orientation material can help to convey lessons about the causes and signs of sleep apnea along with other information about healthy lifestyles. And the same Employee Assistance Program used to support drivers who have challenges with substance abuse can offer help to those who struggle with chronic obesity.

Even the fittest drivers in a fleet will face an increase in weight-related challenges over time. Bodies begin to store more fat with age, so a diet of fatty food or other less-than-wholesome options will have a bigger impact with each passing year. Once someone reaches the age of 40, they will tend to gain about three to five pounds annually, and that could bring them closer to a Body Mass Index of 30 or more. This is when people face a greater risk of developing issues like sleep apnea.

Sure, healthy eating can be a challenge when looking at some of the options on a truck stop’s menu, but there are better choices to be found. A bottle of water obviously contains less sugar than a can of pop, and those who drink coffee can decide against the extra cream and sugar. Breads made of whole grains will be healthier than a piece of white toast, and sliced tomatoes can replace the hash browns alongside a breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Canada’s Guide to Healthy Eating shows that adults should consume five to 12 servings of grains, five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit, two to four milk products and two to three servings of meat or alternatives per day. And employees need to understand that while coffees, teas and colas can offer a short-term buzz, they also act as diuretics that can lead to dehydration.

Since exercise can make a difference of its own, one carrier has even developed a DVD demonstrating the different stretches and breathing exercises that can help to revive drivers who are on the road, and equipped fleet facilities with an elliptical bike, rowing machine and showers.

Once drivers know about healthier options like these, they have the chance to maintain and improve their overall wellness.

That will lead to a healthier fleet in every respect.

-This month’s expert is Evelyn Cartmill, STS senior advisor, CHRP, CRM. Evelyn has served the trucking industry for over 15 years in the areas of Human Resources, Safety and Compliance. Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers. Markel is the country’s largest trucking insurer providing more than 50 years of continuous service to the transportation industry. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to read about more industry hot topics, visit Markel’s web-site at www.markel.caand click on the Articles & Essays section.

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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