I’m writing to highlight the real dangers of drowsiness potentially placing our company and my colleagues at risk.
By the very nature of our 24-hour business, we are exposed to pressures caused by working at times against our bodies’ natural circadian rhythm.
Our bodies want us to be sleeping, but we are scheduled to work.
This biological need combined with commuting times to and from site, places our shift workers at risk of a drowsy-driving incident, even if we begin our shifts well rested. Because of these inherent risks, I believe our business needs a diagnostic fatigue risk assessment to determine our fatigue risk profile by looking closely at:
- Drivers and operators at risk
- Times of the day when they are at risk
- Locations presenting the greatest risk
Sadly, there are many real-life incidents occurring every day which result in injury and loss of life and there are some common elements contributing to the risk.
Risks to our employees
Geographic danger spots
When government receives accident data pointing to potential a danger spot on a stretch of public road, they introduce measures to reduce the hazards common to that specific spot. Actions could include decreasing the speed, installing road barriers, or improving road surfaces, markings, and signage.
The downside of the accident data is that it does not include near misses or incidents where road authorities aren’t notified. This means there may be numerous danger spots which to date have not been recognised by road authorities but which present a significant risk to our drivers.
Travelling long distances to and from a shift
Not only must our employees remain vigilant throughout a long and demanding shift, but they must also stay alert while they are travelling home at the end of a shift. This journey might add another two hours to an already-lengthy 10-hour day.
Travelling long distances during a shift
Our drivers are part of a large number of industries facing long distances while they work. Truck, coach, bus and rail drivers, as well as pilots all fall under this category.
For drivers, they can be moving across states or even the country, for many hours at a time. Tight deadlines can encourage drivers to push themselves beyond their limits such as driving through the night or skipping their assigned rest break.
Truck and train drivers are often driving by themselves, without another person to talk to and help keep them alert. They have no one to swap driving with or who could potentially identify the signs of drowsiness.
Our employees also travel long distances to get to and from their shift, and often as part of their job.
They also normally travel alone. In one study, it was determined 55% of people surveyed admitted to driving drowsy in the past year, and being a professional driver does not exempt you from this state, indeed the pressures of deadlines add to the possibility of ignoring how you feel and continuing regardless.
What time are our employees working? Danger times
As we know, the circadian rhythm is instrumental in controlling the body’s internal “clock”. This natural regulator of sleeping patterns tells our bodies when it is time to fall asleep at night, and when to start waking up in the morning.
It is hard to fight.
Most drowsiness-related incidents occur between certain time periods as outlined below:
By this time, the body’s natural melatonin levels have risen, signalling sleep. This is when the body starts preparing for sleep, and if you’re in the middle of a shift, you’re working hard to fight this.
This is a common time period where many overnight shifts end. Driving home after a long shift during this time is one of the most dangerous times for road accidents involving drowsiness.
You might be surprised to see this time slot in here – a seemingly ordinary time of the day, where kids are finishing school and you’re looking forward to that 5pm kick-off.
The 3pm lull is real, and there is an explanation for your slump in attention and alertness.
It’s not you being lazy; it’s a natural release of melatonin that makes you want to take a nap. It is, in fact, the same thing that happens before bedtime, albeit at a smaller scale.
As you age, melatonin levels do begin to decrease, however the time in which it is released and reaches its peak generally remains the same: between 11pm and 7am.
We currently have employees operating machinery and driving during these times. We also have an aging workforce. These two factors increase our risk level significantly. Also, the nature of our work often involves repetitive tasks which places them at even greater danger.
Real-life incidents involving drowsiness and fatigue
Our employees are working in an industry most likely to suffer from drowsiness and a drowsiness-related accident – either on the worksite or travelling to or from a shift.
Many hours spent driving as well as a sedentary lifestyle and potentially poor diet can result in sleeping disorders. Driving heavy vehicles and dangerous goods can result disastrous accidents, while long, monotonous roads can encourage your eyelids to droop and your concentration to plummet.
The following are some real-life incidents that have occurred just within the last month:
On 5th March this year, security footage shows a bus driver driving for 20 seconds while allegedly experiencing a micro sleep before crashing into a rail on a Chinese expressway. Some passengers were injured and sadly one person died. Local police said the driver did not sleep the night before.
On 20th March, a four-year-old boy in India was killed after a pick-up truck driver who was suspected of being drowsy crushed him between his truck and a wall. The driver fled the scene and is yet to be arrested.
Just one day later, drowsy driving was the suspected cause of a truck accident that sent the driver to hospital and knocked power out in an Ohio county in the US.
Does our business need drowsiness detection technology?
- Through years of analysing real-time objective drowsiness monitoring data, Optalert has identified typical drowsy driving dangers, but more specifically, they can identify individual risk by monitoring our whole fleet.
- Optalert is the world only real-time drowsiness detection product, helping employees just like ours recognise when they are entering the dangerous state of drowsiness while at work.
- They now have a new product which can diagnose dangers for in the three risk areas listed above. It can determine individual and company risk while an employee is “on the clock”, when they are travelling to their shift, and perhaps most importantly, when they are travelling home at the end of a shift.
You might like to continue learning:
I believe we are facing possible dangers and I would encourage you to determine exactly how at risk we are and how we can better manage our risk to protect our companies and our employees.