Fatigue is more than feeling a bit tired. Fatigue is drowsiness or lack of alertness caused by inadequate sleep and it reduces fleet drivers’ ability to work safely. In extreme cases it can cause road traffic accidents.
Drivers can have a tendency to dismiss fatigue, using all sorts of tactics to ‘freshen themselves up’ such as winding down windows, drinking caffeinated beverages or playing loud music. But the only thing that will ‘cure’ fatigue is sleep.
If managers needed any more proof that fatigue can be dangerous, scientists have found that being awake for 17 hours has similar performance effects as a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.05%. Fleet managers would not let drivers work with that BAC level so it goes to show how important it is to manage driver tiredness too.
For more information on beating fatigue, check out People First: Shell’s Fleet Manager Guide to Healthy and Productive.
The first thing managers need to do is educate their drivers that fatigue is an important issue, but one that can be dealt with. Managers can help their drivers by making sure routes have enough rest breaks built in, that shift work is scheduled to prioritise good sleep hygiene and that they use available technologies such as telematics systems to track driver time limits and enforce them.
Beyond official fatigue measures, managers can also help advise their drivers on how to improve their sleep/rest quality so they can perform safely.
- Breaks: Official regulations vary depending on what is being driven and where, with some regulations saying drivers don’t need a 30-minute break until they’ve been working for eight hours. However, drivers also need to make time for other factors that can help combat fatigue such as exercise, eating well and rehydration. Taking short comfort breaks every couple of hours should definitely be advised.
- Hydration & nutrition: Not just en route but in general, good nutrition makes for more alert drivers. Eating the right food and drinking plenty water keeps blood sugar stable and promotes alertness. Poor diet does the opposite. There is plenty of proof that obesity and poor diet contributes to poor sleep. Overweight people often suffer from sleep apnea – obstructed airways leading to waking and sleeplessness. Too much alcohol during downtime also affects quality of sleep. A couple of beers or glasses of wine might help drivers drop off quickly but alcohol leaves people more prone to light, less refreshing sleep or wakefulness.
- Exercise: While exercise contributes to overall better health it has a directly positive impact on sleep. As well as releasing feel-good hormones, exercise also ‘properly’ tires out the whole body for people who have a mostly sedentary day. Exercise is also useful to perk up mind and body when lethargy sets in. Don’t mistake it as a cure for fatigue though – exercise is about getting out of a slump, not trying to wake up an already exhausted body.
- Sleep: It sounds obvious but good quality sleep is the key to beating fatigue. The trouble is, worrying about getting a good night’s sleep can destroy the chance of actually getting one. Establishing a good bedtime routine will help. Don’t exercise close to bedtime and avoid alcoholic drinks, instead, choose a warm, non-caffeinated drink. Try to leave smartphones and tablets in another room as the blue light from these devices has been shown to upset sleep patterns. Keeping the device in another room also removes the temptation for one last scroll through social media and keeps the vibrating notifications out of earshot too, allowing drivers to properly switch off from the office.