Assessing an employees’ Fitness for Duty according to fatigue risk management specialist, FatigueFit, leaves managers more vulnerable than ever.
It’s a situation in which most in the industry have found themselves.
On the one hand there are unending operational pressures to meet delivery schedules and contractual agreements, and on the other is the requirement to take reasonable steps to ensure that drivers are fit for duty.
And every time the decision is made on how to balance these seemingly conflicting demands a supervisor can be called to account.
As in the case of supervisor Simiona Tuteru who is currently facing four counts of manslaughter.
Tuteru has been charged over allegations he knew or ought to have known that one of his employees, Mohinder Singh, was fatigued and not in a proper state to drive on the day that he fell asleep at the wheel.
Singh recently pleaded guilty to culpable driving causing the death of four police officers in Victoria. While incidents of this nature are rare, the decisions that led to them are very common. Consider how many times have you had to make a similar call?
For supervisors, this example highlights the major issue that many do not have a solid basis for decision-making in relation to driver fatigue.
Without legally and scientifically defensible criteria for allowing or not allowing an individual to drive, supervisors will continue to make the best call they can based on their experience.
Where this results in a major incident, the supervisor may well find themselves as the ‘meat in the sandwich’ left to justify their actions before the court.
And given that safety is a shared responsibility, what role should we expect of drivers themselves?
“Drivers also face the same challenges of not having legally and scientifically defensible criteria for determining fitness for duty,” said Steven Perlen, FatigueFit Chief Operating Officer.
“In the absence of a solid basis for decision-making they will also rely on their experience. In the case of Singh, there is evidence that whilst he did not feel fit for duty, he was worried that he was going to be fired and insisted on going to work. This perception of a coercive environment adds an additional level of complexity to the way an employee weighs up the assessment of their fatigue.”
So, when faced with the daily challenge of determining drive fitness for duty, what do you do?
It’s possible to scrutinise a drivers’ schedule and make a judgement based on experience, but that won’t illustrate what they did between shifts.
“They probably won’t tell you and you’re loathe to ask,” said Perlen.
Another option is to ask them if they reckon they are good to go. But this, too, is problematic, especially if they’re hungry for overtime.
Judging whether a worker looks too tired to drive is something even researchers are unable to do reliably enough to convince a judge.
There’s always a chance that a driver can sign a form to verify their mental acuity and awareness to work although it doesn’t verify that they’re telling the truth.
Another option, according to Steven, is to decide it’s all too hard and avoid the issue entirely.
“The problem for most transport owners and managers is that in today’s regulatory environment any one of those choices can potentially land you in jail,” he said.
To provide a greater certainty around fitness for duty, businesses are turning to a growing suite of fatigue assessment tools and technologies.
These range from evidence-based assessments such as Fatiguefit and Fatigue Guru that operate at a business and individual level respectively, to in-vehicle telematics and fatigue detection systems that act as the last line of defence in accident prevention.
“As there is great variation in the efficacy of fatigue risk management tools, it’s buyer beware when it comes to exercising due diligence in your selection,” said Perlen.
“It is critical to understand whether the solution is a proven system and will be legally and scientifically defensible in court. You’ll want to know that whichever approach you use, the technology or tool been tested, and the results independently verified. Failure to do so could leave you at risk of prosecution and jail time.
“To keep yourself and your business safe, take the subjectivity out of fatigue risk assessment. Use validated, evidence-based tools to support your decision-making and implement them in cooperation with your team,” added Perlen.