The agency tasked with working towards a consensus and coming up with a possible fatigue management solution, which will take the trucking industry forward, while also satisfying the concerns of fatigue experts and safety advocates, is the National Transport Commission.
“We achieved minor amendments to the standard work and rest hours,” said Aaron de Rosario Executive Leader of Regulatory Reform at the NTC, speaking at Trucking Australia 23. “The NTC put forward a more ambitious proposal than the ones that were ultimately settled upon, but ultimately there were minor amendments to the standard work and rest hours. These have not necessarily been signed off on. There is a desire for ministers to make sure that it’s subject to an appropriate safety assessment.
“With respect to the proposal about the 24 hour clock, it was to reset after a break of 10 hours. Another one that was put in there was around flexible rest breaks with electronic record keeping. We are looking at changes to assessing fitness to drive in particular working to better identify and take action around sleep apnea as part of the licensing regime.
“That’s a process that happens under the driver licensing law, rather than the HVNL, but changes to assessing drivers’ fitness to drive requirements are also a piece of work that the NTC is looking at.
“There was an agreement to reduce administrative offences, and make sure those offences focus on deceptive or misleading conduct, rather than just spelling errors or minor mistakes. Simplifying the enforcement regime, reducing the timeframe for using infringements as a tool for addressing fatigue and making sure the focus is on the immediacy of fatigue problems.”
There is also a plan to simplify record keeping and another discussion on fatigue and distraction detection technology, etc, which the NTC views as a mechanism for actively managing fatigue.
According to Aaron, there isn’t a very big change between the current regime and the proposed regulations. It’s said to be a slight simplification in terms of the number of internal breaks and requirements to rest within a 12 hour working environment.
“There’s not a significant change there at all,” said Aaron. “There is a schedule for written record keeping and there is a desire to see a greater uptake of electronic record keeping, so the schedule for electronic record keeping is slightly different. Essentially, the most significant change here is the period that counts as a rest break doesn’t have to be a 15 minute period.
“At the moment under the schedule, it’s not a break if it’s not 15 minutes, and for electronic record keeping there’s a proposal for that break not having to be 15 minutes. It’s really important to understand that this doesn’t mean that if you stop at a set of traffic lights, you can just click your machines and say you’re taking a break. That isn’t the intent, and I think that when we get to the end of this process, there’ll be still be some kind of prescribied minimum period that counts as a break. It won’t be five minutes, but might be 10 minutes, it’s not intended to be 15.”
Two Tier System
Operators will be able to be certified and get their safety management system aka SMS certified by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator as well as meeting the requirements of the required level of fatigue management within that SMS. This means they can graduate to tier two, which provides an alternative schedule on rest and work hours. The alternative schedules which will be accessible will be within the limits of the current AFM limits.
“At the moment you kind of have a similar kind of scheme,” said Aaron. “You have BFM and you have AFM. What we’re looking to do through this particular system is making an environment whereby the regulator can develop a whole range of alternative other schedules. We have BFM and AFM and then the regulator could create something called BFM plus or BFM minus.
“There could be a fatigue management that allows for a little bit of extra flexibility. The intent here is that within those parameters, the base work and resting hours and the AFM, the regulator can develop standard sets of fatigue schedules and that an operator which can meet the requirements for that particular one, can go and apply for it and get it without having to go through as many convoluted processes as the current AFM requirements.
“There’s always going to be that situation where something that the regulator develops might not meet these needs and there will still be an opportunity for an operator to put in for their own kind of schedule that is more suited to their business.
“The principle here is that there’s going to be standard work and rest hours, but we will also have a scheme for certified operators that provides a whole range of flexibility in between the general schedule and AFM. Importantly, if we accept that those AFM limits and those ministerial standards allow ministers to set a risk appetite for fatigue, it’s for the regulator to appropriately manage those kinds of risks and provide the right kind of environment that allows businesses to do what they need to do and make sure that those fatigue risks have been properly managed.”