Speaker: Tony Hart BA Dip Arch RIBA NRBOSH, Senior Architect, Sellafield Sites

Date: 15th February 2018

Venue: The Netherwood Hotel, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

Tony gave us a thought-provoking presentation on the need for effective management of employees who are routinely expected to drive as part of their work. He explained that for most people driving is their most dangerous work activity and highlighted the impact of driver tiredness on our ability to drive safely.

Tony reminded members that driver tiredness is one of the biggest killers on UK roads. Road accident statistics indicate that about 300 people per year are killed due to falling asleep at the wheel.

He said that research has shown that categories of drivers who are most at risk of driver tiredness include:

  • Young male drivers – who are most likely to crash due to tiredness in the early morning after little or no sleep.
  • Older male drivers – who are most likely to crash during the mid-afternoon, when it is common to experience a ‘dip’ in your body clock.
  • Commercial vehicle drivers – responsible for 40% of serious road accidents where driver tiredness is identified as a major factor.

Tony went on to explain that although it can be difficult to prove that a road accident was caused by driver tiredness but he said that the police and HSE have now developed ways of accessing whether tiredness is likely to have been a factor such as assessing:

  • Tacographs (commercial vehicles).
  • Type of accident impact.
  • Road tyre marks (indicate driver’s response to emergency situation).
  • Eye witness statements.
  • Motorway service station videos (confirms time and length of driver’s rest breaks).
  • The driver’s work schedules for the day.
  • Hours driving plus hours spent working and/or socialising.

Tony reminded members that drivers who cause serious accidents due to driving tired and survive can face careless driving or dangerous driving charges.

He then discussed factors that cause driver tiredness and affect driving ability:

  • Lack of sleep (irregular sleep patterns, too little sleep, disturbed sleep, insomnia, sleep apnoea).
  • Time of day (Midnight to 6 am and 2 to 4 pm are danger zones for tiredness).
  • Stress (home or work).
  • Dehydration (research has shown that mental capacity, mood and cognitive ability can be adversely affected by mild dehydration).
  • Medication (drugs including some anti-depressants and hay fever tablets can affect driving ability).
  • Physical conditions in car (temperature, distractions, cruise control, radio, telephone, sat nav etc…).
  • Driving more than two hours without a break.Tony then summarised some practical ways of combating driver tiredness for work related driving:

He also explained the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) Questionnaire and recommended that members went through the questionnaire to help them understand their potential susceptibility to driver tiredness.

  • Allow sufficient time for journeys (including provision for unexpected hold-ups).
  • Take regular breaks from driving (at least 15 minutes, get out of the car, have a drink, walk about).
  • Speak to your employer/line manager if you think work time schedules are unrealistic (employers have responsibilities under road traffic legislation if employees are driving as a work activity and health and safety law).
  • Employers should consider providing defensive driving courses for employees who are regularly expected drive long hours for their work.
  • If an employee’s work day involves travelling more than two hours in each direction to a work location then working for a period of four or more hours, consider alternative means of transport or staying in overnight accommodation.

Tony then alerted members to the warning signs of driver tiredness such as:

  • Trouble focussing on the road.
  • Head nodding, and/or difficulty keeping eyes open.
  • Not remembering the last few minutes of the journey.
  • Poor judgement, slower reaction time.
  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts.
  • Constant yawning or rubbing your eyes.
  • Drifting in the lane.

Tony warned members that it was imperative to heed these tiredness symptoms and to find somewhere to rest as soon as possible because they could lead to a ‘micro-sleep’ episode. ‘Micro-sleep’ occurs when someone ‘nods off’ for between two and 30 seconds without remembering it and happens when people are tired but are trying to stay awake. He reminded members that ‘nodding off’ for just a few seconds at the wheel can be fatal for the driver and for other road users in the vicinity.

Tony concluded by discussing ways of managing driver tiredness and the impact of life style choices on driver tiredness.

A copy of Tony’s presentation can be found here: Feb 2018 Driving on company business and the impact of tiredness

Tony’s presentation generated worthwhile discussions and was much appreciated by members attending the meeting.