Road safety authorities and trucking professionals agree that driver fatigue is a top risk in Ontario’s trucking industry.
When it comes to driving, two types of fatigue matter—physical fatigue and mental fatigue. Both reduce a driver’s capability to perform essential driving-related duties.
Physical fatigue can result in longer reaction times and inaccurate or incorrect responses.
Mental fatigue is the greater concern for most drivers, as it decreases mental performance. It can occur after driving for long periods without a rest or break, or as a result of the monotony or repetitiveness of either the driving task or driving conditions (traffic, weather, etc.). Mental fatigue reduces a driver’s alertness, focus, attentiveness, and decision-making ability in ways that reduce their ability to perform key driving functions.
Driver fatigue can have serious unintended adverse effects on the safety and well-being of not only the driver, but also the carrier, fellow workers, and the community.
How significant is fatigue as a road safety issue?
Road safety authorities in Ontario (and throughout North America) agree that fatigue is a leading cause of motor-vehicle incidents (MVI)—right up there with distractions, speed, and impairment. In fact, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) analyzed police report data and found that driver fatigue is a factor in at least 20% of police-reported large truck collisions in Ontario.*
During a risk assessment workshop in March 2019, drivers, supervisors, and employers from Ontario’s trucking industry identified driver fatigue as a top risk in the trucking sector, ranking second only to distracted driving.
Analyzing the root causes of driver fatigue
To better understand the root causes of driver fatigue on the job, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD), in partnership with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA), organized a group of industry experts to gather insight.
The group was again made up of drivers, supervisors, and employers in the industry. They met for two days in November 2019 to determine the root causes of driver fatigue in Ontario’s trucking sector. Together, they identified 66 root causes of driver fatigue and then voted to prioritize a top 10 list based on the likelihood that the factors could contribute to driver fatigue.
Traffic conditions, unhealthy lifestyles, mental health, lack of education to recognize driver fatigue, and training gaps in licensing all appear in the top five causal factors. More detailed information on the top root causes of driver fatigue among professional truck drivers can be found in the accompanying technical paper.
What we as an industry should focus on immediately
After identifying the top 10 causal factors of driver fatigue, the group of subject-matter experts, led by Dr. Sujoy Dey of the MLTSD, identified possible solutions and controls for the top-ranked risks. During the discussions, similar themes and proposed controls kept emerging that informed five key recommendations:
- Classify truck driving as a skilled trade (Red Seal)
- Review and address critical training gaps in mandatory entry-level training (MELT)
- Make graduated licensing for all truck drivers mandatory
- Increase enforcement of non-compliant carriers
- Promote mental health and wellness among professional truck drivers.
These recommendations provide a foundation for reducing driver fatigue by focusing on systemic causal factors and not just the symptoms of driver fatigue.
How IHSA can help
IHSA has developed a number of online educational resources to address driver fatigue and help workplaces strengthen their road safety plans. These resources, including tip sheets for employers and workers and safety talks that address driver mental health, will be available in Spring 2021.
IHSA urges stakeholders in the trucking industry to visit ihsa.ca/driverfatigue to learn more about industry-identified root causes of driver fatigue and recommended solutions. Working together, we can create safer working environments for all professional truck drivers and those who share the road with them.
*According to the MTO’s Large Truck Collision Causation Study, 2020.