Fatigue management

Fatigue information for drivers

This page has information on how drivers can manage and overcome fatigue while at work. 

All transport operators are required by law to provide a safe and healthy working environment for employees, and others who may be put at risk. 

Drivers also have a key role to play in the management of their fatigue.

What is fatigue

Fatigue can be any of the following: 

  • be defined as a loss of alertness which eventually ends in sleep
  • lead to poor judgment, slower reaction time and decreased skill, such as in vehicle control -  increasing the risk of crashes
  • result from long or arduous work, little or poor quality sleep, and the time of day when the work is performed and sleep obtained. 
  • be influenced by health and emotional issues, or by several of these factors in combination
  •  impairs the driver's judgement of his or her own state of fatigue - therefore, the effective management of fatigue should not be the responsibility of the driver alone.

The body clock

Human beings are day orientated, designed to work in the daytime and sleep at night.

Crash risk increases when the driver is driving at times when he or she would normally be asleep. There is also an increased crash risk during the mid-afternoon "siesta" hours.

Work practices may disrupt eating and sleeping routines and affect a driver's body rhythms or body clock, leading to cumulative or banked fatigue. Once a driver reaches this level of fatigue, the only solution is sufficient good quality sleep.

Sleep

We all have an irresistible need to sleep, the urge to sleep is greatest during the night and early morning. 

People differ in both the amount of sleep they need and their tolerance levels to a lack of sleep.

As a general guide, six hours sleep a night is regarded as a minimum. 

The most beneficial sleep is one taken in a single continuous period.

Poor sleep or little sleep over several days, leads to severe sleep debt and the irresistible urge to sleep - increasing the risk of falling asleep at the wheel and crashing.

Stimulant drugs may reduce the likelihood of falling asleep when drowsy, but they don't reduce the need for sleep. Sleep delayed by drugs will need to be made up later.

People who experience excessive sleepiness during the day, despite adequate sleep at night, may suffer from a medical condition and should seek medical advice.

Guiding principles - advice for drivers and operators

The guiding principles for fatigue management include, but are not limited to, the below. 

Drivers should be in a fit state to undertake work by all of the following: 

  • being given appropriate time to plan and prepare for a working period involving long shifts
  • presenting in a fit state for work and must be free from alcohol and drugs
  • being adequately rested before starting work
  • avoiding unfamiliar or irregular work rosters
  • being medically fit and should have regular assessments by medical practitioners
  • having access to lifestyle information and counselling where necessary to assist in presenting in a fit state for work.

Night operations need to take into account increased crash rates due to fatigue between 1am and 6am.

Rosters, schedules and leave

Schedules should be flexible to allow drivers to rest or take short breaks when required.

Rosters and schedules, where possible, should be flexible to take into account the rest habits and needs of individual drivers.

When drivers return from leave, night-time schedules should be minimised.

Accommodation and health

Information and assistance should be provided to promote management of driver health.

Appropriate accommodation or sleeper berths should be provided if drivers need to sleep or rest during a trip.

Air-conditioned vehicles should be provided where possible, and seating and sleeping accommodation should meet Australian Standards.

Minimum rest periods

Drivers need to take two periods each of at least 24-hours rest in a 14-day period.

Drivers need to take at least six hours rest in any 24-hour period.

Drivers need to monitor their own work performance and take regular periods of rest to avoid continuing work when tired.

Fatigue management systems. 

All operators should conduct risk assessments and have in place a fatigue management system to minimise and controlling risk factors associated with the operation.

Read the resource packages for operators for materials to undertake risk assessments and to develop fatigue management systems.

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Last updated: 19 April 2016