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A sneak peek into truck driver fatigue

what over 100 truckies in Australia say

The journey has started – take a sneak peek at what truckies have to say about maintaining alertness at work.

When you think about fatigue, chances are the first things that come to mind are sleep (or rest), and how you feel physically when tired. However, it turns out that alertness and wakefulness are also impacted by emotional and cognitive factors.  If you’re like most people, there are probably times when you’ve been at work and haven’t had as much energy, concentration or focus as you’d like, even if you’ve had a good sleep. In an office job this might mean spreadsheet errors or spelling mistakes in an important email, while in hospitality it could mean getting an order incorrect. But what if your work was driving a heavy vehicle? In this role, being alert is not only crucial for performance, but also for safety. Although fatigue has been a focus of the heavy vehicle industry for some time, traditional approaches appear to have hit the end of the road, and a detour towards new and innovative approaches is required.  This is where the Wide Awake project comes in. We are hoping to optimise and maintain driver alertness and wellbeing by looking at workplace factors beyond the traditional focus on sleep quantity and quality, and how these factors might impact fatigue.

Are we there yet?

We have not yet completed our full analysis of the survey data – however we do have some hot off the press preliminary findings for you to have a sneak peek at.

How did we get here?

Between February and May 2023, we gathered data from 106 drivers and asked them about their experience of their workplace using the Wide Awake survey. We included data from ‘ride-alongs’ we completed with a handful of drivers, from our partner organisation SCT Logistics, which provided insights into the daily life of a driver. Currently, we are performing additional analyses, including the integration of real-time data from wearable technology, and also moving towards working with drivers to design interventions that may target some of the cognitive, emotional and workplace factors that are related to fatigue and driver wellbeing.

What did the Wide Awake survey look at?

The survey looked at several things which we are interested in learning more about. These factors were selected based on a systems analysis of the literature regarding factors impacting alertness and wellbeing beyond how much sleep somebody gets (although we asked about this too!). The types of workplace factors we asked about in the survey included things like workplace complexity, engagement, task variety, relationships, and autonomy.

What did we find?

See our top three findings outlined below….

  • Finding 1. Variety is the spice of (alert) life!

We found that sleep was not the only factor related to alertness. For instance, we found that drivers who reported greater task variety at work and were more engaged in what they were doing tended to report higher levels of alertness.

Consider a scenario where you may be well rested but doing a boring and repetitive task – it is likely your alertness will not be high even if you are not physically fatigued. In fact, drivers told us that boredom, waiting around, and being bogged down by paperwork were amongst their most frequent bug bears, suggesting that these issues could impact engagement and alertness levels.

  • Finding 2. K.I.S.S for wellbeing and engagement!

When it comes to wellbeing, we found that drivers in workplaces that are more simplified and who experience less unnecessary complexity at work are more engaged on the job, and reported higher rates of wellbeing than those in complicated workplaces. It is perhaps not surprising that simpler workplaces lead to better engagement as it allows the drivers to focus on a clear set of tasks that they can focus on and get absorbed in, rather than being distracted by complexity. In line with the philosophy of ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’, more simplified workplaces are associated with higher levels of wellbeing, suggesting that the stress associated with managing unnecessary complexity can impact levels of wellbeing, engagement and ultimately alertness.

  • Finding 3. A change is as good as a (driving) holiday

Drivers reported that they would like to see improvements in job demands, workplace relationships, road conditions and vehicle characteristics. Specifically, most qualitative comments were regarding the need for an improved driver experience when it came to pick up and delivery times, and logistics, as well as improved processes that minimize paperwork and ‘red tape’ surrounding fatigue related regulations (e.g. logbooks).  Many comments were also made about opportunities to improve the use of technology, systems and processes, as well as communication.

Where to next?

Whilst it is only early days, findings to date suggest alertness and wellbeing for truck drivers is not caused solely by poor sleep. It seems apparent that other characteristics of the workplace can have an impact on the cognitive and emotional aspects of fatigue. Guided by these findings, we will next perform additional analyses, including regression – which will allow us to better understand cause and effect relationships between factors, and be moving on to the design of interventions to target those factors found to be most important.

So, hang tight as we continue our journey towards understanding how to optimise alertness and wellbeing for truckies!

For more information, feel free to check out our launch article explaining the project in more depth here Introducing Wide Awake and this article Big Rigs featuring our project manager, Ash Fleming.

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