For businesses that have employees with driving responsibilities, fatigue is a real concern that can put employee safety and the company at risk. According to a recent study by the Governors Highway Safety Association, drowsy driving accounts for 328,000 crashes per year, including 109,000 that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes, for a total estimated societal cost of $109 billion per year. The same report found that 10 to 20 percent of truck or bus crashes involve a tired driver.
The causes of driver fatigue
One of the main causes of driver fatigue is lack of sleep. In a recent poll, 74 percent of Americans indicated not getting enough sleep, with 66 percent saying they would do better at their job if they weren’t so tired. While each employee’s situation is unique, there are a variety of other factors that can also contribute to driver fatigue, such as:
- The time of day.
- How long the individual has been awake, working, and/or driving.
- The quantity and quality of the driver’s sleep.
- The individual’s driving experience.
- A driver’s physical or mental characteristics such as age, body temperature, or health (e.g., being under stress or having a sleep disorder).
How to recognize fatigue “red flags”
One proactive step a company can take towards addressing and reducing driver fatigue is by looking for possible indicators. Signs of fatigue can include:
- Physical indications of sleep deprivation (e.g., excessive yawning, droopy/heavy eyelids, bloodshot eyes, a slower than normal reaction time).
- Mental indications of extreme tiredness (e.g., irritability, lack of motivation/concentration, unable to make decisions).
- Complaints about being overworked and tired.
An employee’s decision making and thought processes can be impaired while he/she is drowsy. By planning ahead, a company can reduce the risk of driver fatigue and related accidents and better protect its employees and property.
Ways to reduce driver fatigue
Employers and employees share the responsibility to address driver fatigue and reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. For example, an employee should get the appropriate amount of sleep, take scheduled breaks, and inform his or her employer if he/she is not fit to drive for any reason. And, while employers can’t monitor their employees’ sleep habits, here are four steps they can take to help address the problem:
- As simplistic as it sounds, a proactive step to helping reduce incidents relating to driver fatigue is creating a working environment that encourages open communication. This allows employees to feel comfortable reporting an inability to drive due to fatigue.
- It’s important to schedule consistent work shifts. When scheduling changes are unavoidable, employers should strive to provide as much advanced notice as possible so employees are prepared and have time to make adjustments to their routines.
- The tolerance for schedule changes varies among individuals, which is why it’s important to be flexible. For example, some employees may be more alert and productive in the morning, while others work best in the late afternoon and into the evening. Being flexible allows employers to capitalize on their employees’ strengths, maximize their productivity, and help reduce fatigue that could lead to vehicle accident.
Monitoring with the right tools.
- A fitness-for-duty test. This is a test that helps determine if an employee is physically or psychologically able to perform their job. An employer may request the test for an employee who shows reasonable evidence of extreme fatigue to the point where it is questionable if the individual can safely perform his/her job.
- Lane-tracking devices. Equipment that detects when a driver drifts into another lane, sounding an alarm if the driver changes lanes without using a turn signal – a possible indicator of extreme fatigue.
- Electronic logging devices (ELDs). The amount of time commercial drivers spend behind the wheel is regulated by a set of rules known as the hours of service (HOS). The main purpose of the HOS is to help prevent driver fatigue by limiting employees’ drive time. The ELD records a driver’s hours and duty status, and sends notifications to the employer.
Tactical “short-term” fixes.
The following measures may help temporarily reduce fatigue, but employees and businesses should not rely on them to address fatigue in the long term:
- Ingesting caffeine.
- Taking naps when needed.
- Increasing exposure to loud noises.
- Decreasing the temperature in the vehicle.
- Increasing exposure to light.
- Regularly scheduling breaks every 100 miles.
- Increasing circulation by frequently changing hand positions.
- Avoiding a “death grip” on the steering wheel.
Today, employers and commercial auto insurers are much more aware of the impact of driver fatigue. An insurer who understands the issues can be a strategic partner in helping businesses develop workplace programs that proactively address these issues so employees are safe on the road.
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