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Progressive companies and drivers combine with leading edge research

Praxair Canada, a longstanding member of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, is once again demonstrating real leadership and initiative in their health and safety programs - specifically those designed for their drivers. This is not...

Praxair Canada, a longstanding member of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, is once again demonstrating real leadership and initiative in their health and safety programs – specifically those designed for their drivers. This is not atypical for this company, a leader and innovator for many years.

And the benefits of the Advisory System for Tired Drivers (ASTID) program, which is described in more detail below can and probably will, extend to other parts of the global Praxair world. But first a little background on how seriously this company takes driver safety.

In 2010, Praxair made a presentation to the PMTC membership detailing its approach to combating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) among its driving corps. In short, drivers who volunteered were offered the opportunity to be tested for OSA, and if found necessary, they were provided with treatment options. This progressive approach to addressing a problem dispelled any concerns among the drivers that any found to have OSA would be dismissed.

Apparently the word spread quickly among Praxair’s drivers about the benefits of being properly diagnosed and treated, and many more of their drivers signed up to participate. This is an example of what can happen when good employers hire good employees and they work together to address serious issues.

There have been myriad articles written about sleep apnea and the deleterious effects on those who suffer from it. These effects manifest themselves in both the individual’s work environment and home life, and yet not many companies have actually initiated any type of action to deal with OSA. Praxair needs to be applauded.

Sleep apnea along with general fatigue is one of the industry’s – and the general public’s – most pressing and hidden on-the-road issues. Who has not driven the family car even though they are overtired? And who has not heard some guy bragging about how he drove non-stop to Florida with his family for the annual spring break?

We don’t really understand the magnitude of the fatigue problem since not many people involved in collisions admit to it being a factor, and so it remains an almost hidden factor in road safety.

Now, in addition to their approach to identifying and treating OSA among its drivers, Praxair is engaged with leading researchers at two universities on yet another initiative to combat fatigue among its drivers.

Bob Miskelly of Praxair told an audience at our recent annual conference about the ASTID program developed by the Universities of Liverpool and Loughborough in the U.K., and what they are doing is exciting. The system combines a method of predicting, on an hourly basis, the likelihood of a driver being too fatigued to drive, with a system to detect other indicators of fatigue such as monotony and some tracking of steering wheel movement.

Should the system detect signs of fatigue a visual as well as an audible signal is set off in the cab that alerts the driver. An alert is also sent simultaneously to a designated person at the fleet who can contact the driver to determine his or her condition.

Miskelly explained that with this advance notice, a driver has time to pull over safely and take a short break if necessary – an intra-trip vehicle inspection, a walk-around in the fresh air, or even a short snooze. If that doesn’t alleviate the fatigue the driver may need to take a complete shutdown, but Miskelly agrees that such a shutdown is better than the ditch.

Miskelly also indicated that the system has other benefits. While some may feel that it puts the entire onus on the driver to be refreshed and ready for work, Miskelly said that it also has identified some opportunities for the company to adjust routes and shift times in order to help avoid situations in which a driver could become fatigued.

The company has recognized that it is possible that some of the fatigue problem could be the result of the way it runs its business and, if that is the case, they are prepared to make changes.

The system is not perfect (yet). Miskelly was candid in pointing out some of its deficiencies, but he was also clear in his belief that the benefits outweigh those deficiencies, and that given time and testing, they will be cleared up.

The real significant point is that Praxair’s willingness to experiment is a clear example of a progressive fleet and responsive drivers engaging together to test a system that will assist both the drivers and the fleet management people in the operation of safe and efficient fleet operations.

Each year at our annual conference we hear from our progressive fleet managers about initiatives they have undertaken to make their fleet operations safer and more productive. The opportunity to listen in on these presentations and to share information with our peers is priceless. The willingness of our members to share their experience is one of the unique aspects of PMTC membership.

Praxair deserves to be congratulated for its innovative approach to addressing issues such as fatigue.

While most companies wait on the sidelines and hope someone else finds a solution to these concerns, companies like Praxair are doing something about it.

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