WA fatigue laws not a Holy Grail

NOT THE ANSWER: Chris Blanchard says truck drivers in the eastern states may not be better off under WA fatigue regulations.
NOT THE ANSWER: Chris Blanchard says truck drivers in the eastern states may not be better off under WA fatigue regulations.

A LOT of talk circulating about the number of accidents and fatalities involving heavy vehicles and of course the mandatory laying of blame at the national fatigue laws for a higher proportion of accidents on the east coast as compared to the west.

I'm not a supporter of that argument and have yet to see any facts or figures to convince me that the Western Australian Code Of Practice Fatigue Management For Commercial Vehicles is suitable for widespread use in the eastern states.

That's not to say it couldn't be used over here, as the WA Code of Practice should have been considered as the base for Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM) when the National Fatigue Laws was introduced in 2008 instead of the problematic AFM system that the NHVR is aiming to improve when they become operational as a regulatory body.

Having never worked under the regime I cannot claim to be an expert on the WA laws, but while some are promising drivers that these laws would be the Holy Grail to fix all the fatigue problems on the east coast, I think that if most were to actually read the Code of Conduct they might be in for a shock at some of the content.

If you feel you are being forced to work or drive fatigued under the current regime then how about opening the door for drivers to be pushed into 17 hour 'work' shifts between major rest breaks on not just one but consecutive days.

Some companies are currently pressuring their drivers by dictating only the bare minimum 15 minute rest periods but the Code opens the door for smaller 10 minute rest periods while the calculating of work and rest time is done not just over 24 hours but also 72 hour periods and shares the requirement for 7 hour major rest periods with the national laws. Those working in WA praise this system as it provides the flexibility needed to operate over the distance and remoteness that is unique for that state and copes with a freight task that is inherently different to that on the eastern seaboard with a denser concentration of population centres, higher traffic volumes and a questionable attitude by some in our industry. With the risks associated with more heavy vehicle drivers operating on the road for longer hours as allowed by the Code it is no surprise the NTC and state transport ministers rejected it for universal use. When you still have rogue customers, operators and drivers who continue to operate irresponsibly it makes it very hard for anybody to be able to put a credible case forward for a more flexible driving hours regime then we currently have.

We have been indoctrinated with a victim mentality by our peers and industry commentators that the laws are responsible for a high number of fatigue related crashes, truth being is the laws are far from perfect and definitely have room for improvement to reflect and cater for what goes on out here in the real world but they also do act to protect many of us from being forced into unsafe practices.

Gradually there are more in the industry changing old habits and attempting to abide in principle by the fatigue and COR laws including an increasing number of drivers who refuse to risk their life or that of others for any deadline.

But with the harder economic times there are still those refusing to change or even returning to these outdated habits of operating outside of the law and safety.

You only have to drive down the Hume Hwy and look at the amount of real estate that has been ploughed up over the last six months to wonder what is going on.

Are drivers getting the opportunity to take a seven-hour major rest break for sleep as both the national and WA laws require or are they continuing to be forced to or choose of their own doing to work outside the limits of any law and continue the age old practice of claiming a major rest break when they have in fact been working or claiming a phantom driver was in the vehicle as I had one driver describing to me recently that they are still being forced to do.

If you are not being given the opportunity or willingly choose not to use the seven hour rest break for its intended purpose of sleep and rest, then it might be time to consider change rather than calling for it.

Topics:  chris blanchard in the know

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