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Fatigue Management for Fleet Owners

Severe fatigue can impair someone as much as being drunk would, so it’s important to make sure your drivers are getting enough sleep. Following the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service regulations is a good first step, but ensuring that drivers can get the restorative sleep they need to stay sharp helps keep the roads safer and your business on the right road.

“Sleep is a necessity, as essential as food and oxygen,” Nancy Rothstein, director of corporate sleep programs for fatigue risk management firm Circadia, told Fleet Owner. “Irrefutable scientific evidence reveals that the one-third of our lives that we spend sleeping profoundly impacts the two-thirds we spend awake. Thus, sleep is critical to virtually all aspects of our functioning and affects the performance, safety and health of every member of your workforce.”

A University of Texas Austin study found that people deprived of sleep for just one night saw their quick thinking accuracy drop by 2.4% from the previous day. Meanwhile, well rested test participants improved their accuracy by 4.3%. Given the fast decisions drivers need to make on the road, losing even one night’s sleep can be dangerous.

The Center for Disease Control found that 63% of Americans’ sleep needs were not being met during the week. As a fleet owner, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your drivers understand the importance of and are able to get a good night’s sleep on the road.

Help drivers plan for rest on the road with cabins built to accommodate comfortable sleeping quarters and find routes that have plenty of safe places to park. Most importantly, treat fatigue as the serious safety risk it is and provide training and education to drivers about sleep deprivation.

“Obtaining good sleep also requires training, just like you would train a driver how to shift gears for the best fuel economy, how to hook up and detach trailers to prevent injuries, etc.,” Dean Croke, vice president of Omnitracs Analytics, advised Fleet Owner. “For example, sleep is best achieved in a sleeper berth so dark a driver can’t see their hand in front of their face with an air temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.”

A person’s overall health affects their sleep, so remind drivers of the importance of regular check ups and treating any medical issues they have. If a driver is chronically waking up tired, they should talk with their doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea.

“Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a driver to awaken briefly 50 to 100 times a night or more, yet he or she will not be aware that this is going on. That leads to poor quality sleep, making them sleepy and increasing the risk of errors,”  Alan Lankford, chief science officer for SleepSafe Drivers, told Fleet Owner.

Drivers with mild sleep apnea may not realize anything is off in their sleep cycle, but commercial vehicle drivers with untreated sleep apnea have been found to be three times more likely to be involved in a wreck than their colleagues without sleep apnea.

Southeastern Freight Lines found success in implementing a voluntary sleep apnea treatment program for employees. Drivers in the program had a 5% drop in medical and pharmacy costs, while drivers not in treatment increased health spending by 11%. Accidents among those in the program also dropped, leading to $600,000 cost savings in just one year.

Keep an eye out for common fatigue symptoms among your drivers and remind them that if they start experience any of the following on the road, it’s time to hit the hay:

  • Decreased communication and difficulty communicating.
  • Slips in performance and being more prone to mistakes.
  • Easily getting distracted and forgetfulness.
  • Slowed reaction time and difficulty adjusting to new information or situations.
  • Mood swings and increased irritability.
  • Greater risk-taking behavior and inability to recognize the risk.