Optimizing Log Hauling by Minimizing Driver Fatigue
By Rick Walters BC Forest Safety Council
Just as contractors and truckers in Northern B.C. are gearing up to deliver their inventory, another January thaw interrupts their plans. With the warmer winters we have experienced over the past few years, it’s a scenario that can occur just about anywhere in Canada’s North. It results in the need to move millions of metres of wood, but in fewer days than originally scheduled. It’s a situation that may tempt some log haulers to test their resilience and push the limits of fatigue. Before you consider travelling that road, there are a few things worth knowing about fatigue, its effects, ways to recognize it, and what you can do to manage it.
What is Fatigue?
Fatigue is a normal and important response to physical exertion, emotional stress, task monotony, boredom, or lack of sleep. Log haulers put in long, hard days (and nights), often according to irregular schedules and frequented by a number of physical and emotional stressors, so it’s quite reasonable to expect there are a number of ways fatigue can figure in a trucker’s world.
Acute and Cumulative Sleep Loss: Everyone’s sleep needs are unique, but 90% of us require 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per day to perform optimally. Acute sleep loss occurs when an individual receives less than their usual 7.5 to 8.5 hours within a 24-hour period. Cumulative sleep loss occurs over several days. For example, if you lose one hour of sleep each night, after five days, you have a sleep debt of five hours. Recovery from sleep debt does not require hour-for-hour pay back – two nights of good rest will often reduce accumulated sleep debt to zero.
Continuous Hours Worked: Studies indicate that 16 to 18 hours of continuous wakefulness is associated with significantly reduced performance and alertness. So, if you’re pushing along a 13- or 14-hour shift, you also need to add in commuting time to and from work, wrenching time and other lifestyle commitments that are part of your day.
Circadian Rhythms: Our bodies are hard-wired to respond to key environmental stimuli – primarily light and dark. Circadian rhythms describe the cycles of our internal clock, which controls the timing of physiological activities such as thermo-regulation, immune function and digestion, as well as performance, alertness, and mood. We function best with traditional patterns of daytime wakefulness and nighttime sleep, with periods of reduced activity (i.e., decreased performance and alertness) between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., as well as 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. To the extent that your driver is working during darkness, and trying to sleep in during daylight hours, they are confusing their natural body rhythms, accumulating fatigue and reducing human performance.
Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea, insomnia, bruxism (grinding of the teeth), night terrors, and others – impact quality of sleep significantly. Poor quality of sleep is directly linked to fatigue and the associated decreased alertness.
What Does Fatigue Do?
On the statistics side, The Canadian Trucking Association reports that 30% to 40% of collisions in the heavy truck industry in North America are related to fatigue. The National Transportation Safety Board has estimated that fatigue is related to 31% of fatal truck crashes. The fall-out from fatigue damages many truckers and their families, and it incurs huge costs to employers and the log hauling industry as a whole.
On an individual basis, fatigue contributes to the following:
- Decreased awareness, reduced alertness – Mental alertness is a measure of our ability to perceive – see, hear, smell – a stimulus. Fatigue dulls our senses, and slows our ability to take in and process critical information.
- Diminished judgment – As we continuously receive stimuli, we need to select which ones to pay attention to, and what to do about them. Fatigue reduces our ability to “make the right call.”
- Impaired ability to respond to stimuli – Fatigue simply results in a slower reaction time; it’s the difference between a thankful near miss and a costly fender bender. In worse situations, fatigued operators have totally failed to respond to a stimulus – didn’t see it, didn’t hear it, and made no reaction to avoid the moose, or the school bus.
- Reduced human performance in the areas of problem-solving abilities, mental arithmetic, cognitive reasoning and manual dexterity.
- Reduced ability to judge distance, speed, and time.
- Forgetting or ignoring normal checks or procedures, and inaccurate recall of operational events.
A recent study found that fatigue depreciates one’s ability to correctly comprehend situations. It can cause us to be physiologically unable to conceive a negative outcome. Drivers can be so tired they can’t see the hazards and can’t understand how they can translate to an incident. Seeing no possibility of a negative consequence causes further erratic behaviour. It can be like invincibility... on Red Bull. And that can be a lethal driving attitude.
How Can You Identify Fatigue?
There are a variety of clues that provide physical evidence of a fatigued driver.
- Frequent yawning, heavy eyelids, long blinks, head nodding, slumping or leaning posture.
- Fidgeting, feeling irritable, bored or depressed, and daydreaming.
- Inability to remember the last few kilometres.
- Difficulty concentrating or carrying on a conversation.
- Tailgating, drifting over the centre line or on to the shoulder.
- Varying vehicle speed for no apparent reason.
- Misjudging or miscalculating traffic situations.
- Seeing things “jump out” along the road, being surprised by roadside events or features.
Increasingly, there are electronic devices employed to identify and monitor fatigue. Most use one of two approaches – measuring eye, eyelid or head movements plus other physiological changes (for example, gaze tracking), or driver performance as measured by vehicle movements (for example, track steering inputs, lateral movements, following distance, etc.). Some larger fleets are using a few of these products and finding them helpful particularly when linked to GPS technologies – letting a dispatcher in Calgary know when their driver in Fort St. John seems to be nodding off, and enabling them to send the driver a message.
Seeing Machines offers one such product, the DSS suite, which uses face tracking techniques to deliver information on operator fatigue and operator distraction.
How Can You Manage Fatigue?
About now you’re probably thinking, “So what, I am like every other trucker. Fatigue is simply part of my world.” You’re right. In one survey of B.C. truckers, including log haulers, 100% acknowledged they have driven their truck while fatigued. But they also recognized that it was a key variable that’s in their control. Here are a few of the tools you can use to manage fatigue.
Optimize Sleep Opportunities
Managing your sleep schedule around the clock will make an enormous difference to your susceptibility to drowsiness. Tips for sleeping better include:
- Aim to achieve seven or eight hours of quality sleep out of every 24-hour cycle.
- Catch up on sleep during the weekend.
- Try to maintain consistent wake-up and bed times each workday.
- Keep your bedroom dark and the curtains closed to keep out light.
- Create a consistent pre-bed routine during which you wind down and relax.
- Create a quiet and comfortable sleep environment.
- Avoid caffeine later in the day.
- Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid.
Nap When You Need To
Napping is one of the most effective ways to combat drowsiness. When planning a nap during your shift, remember:
- Power naps of 15-30 minutes seem most helpful in overcoming drowsiness.
- Don’t exceed this duration unless there is time for a full sleep cycle, in which case a 1.5- to two-hour nap is recommended.
Allow at least 10-15 minutes after waking up to fully recover alertness before starting to drive.
Work With Your Natural Circadian Rhythms
These are physical, mental and behavioural changes – body temperature, hormone secretion, metabolism, and sleep patterns – that occur on roughly a 24-hour cycle. Each of us is more or less hard-wired around a 24-hour cycle and is stimulated by environmental cues – primarily light and dark.
Inattention due to fatigue occurs more frequently when drivers work through the night in opposition to their body’s normal circadian rhythm. If we are “programmed” to be more active and alert during daylight hours, it makes sense to try to arrange your day to make the most of available daylight. There are only about eight hours of daylight during northern winters. Getting up at 10 p.m. and getting done at noon means you’re doing more than 70% of your work when your body thinks it should be asleep. Sure, someone has to load first, and being lead dog has its benefits, but if the scales were open a couple hours later to accommodate the last truck, would that enable you to sleep in until midnight, and then do only 50% of your job in the dark?
Identify and Manage Sleep Disorders
If your significant other is complaining about your increasingly loud snoring, it’s probably time to check with your doctor for a second opinion. Sleep apnea is common. A 2002 study of 3.4 million U.S. truckers found that about 26% of them were suffering from some form of sleep apnea. A more recent Pennsylvania study found that sleep apnea impacts some 35% of those truckers.
Fortunately, there are effective techniques to identify and overcome sleep apnea and other disorders. A few large trucking companies have funded significant internal initiatives, and found the investment is paying back big dividends – particularly “reduced crash frequency and severity” in their fleets. Insurance companies are also beginning to pay attention to the relationship between sleep disorders and crashes, and are considering both positive and negative incentives to urge truckers and trucking companies to grapple with sleep disorders.
If you would like to learn more about sleep disorders, talk to your doctor. You can also check out a variety of organizations or websites such as the BC Lung Association (http://www.lung.ca/diseases-maladies/apnea-apnee_e.php).
Like your rig, your body needs a good supply of quality fuel to be at its best. That means a well-balanced diet of wholesome carbohydrates, proteins and a few fats delivered over the course of your day. Start with a good breakfast. Feed the machine during the day. A small snack of fruits and vegetables every two hours has been shown to help log haulers avoid fatigue and speed their reaction time (learn more about this study and the Fit to Drive program through the BC Forest Safety Council).
Although it’s far better to get required vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet, if you are coming up short, consider a multi-vitamin supplement to maintain the balance. Keep hydrated, and choose water over energy drinks laced with sugars and other nasty chemicals that leave you feeling crashed out. Find a way to squeeze in exercise each day – a few sit-ups when you check your brakes, a stroll while you wait to load or unload, a few stretches as you get in and out of the truck, a few flexes as you drive down the road – it all helps avoid fatigue, and keeps you sharp.
Run Quality Equipment
When your days are already long, time spent fixing things at the shop or on the side of the road usually translates to a missed trip, or fewer hours of sleep. Checking your equipment daily provides the opportunity to identify and repair little things before they become costly big things. And when you are running an effective preventive maintenance program, you will probably sleep better knowing your equipment is consistently up to the demands of hauling logs.
Try rotating the loading order. Because it seems the first few trucks have a smoother day than the last few trucks, this gives everyone a shot at finishing their 13-hour day in 13 hours, rather than 15, or 16. If the last few trucks are always the same drivers, their longer days translate to rapid fatigue accumulation. And that can
become your problem – what if that tired driver misses your “Down at 13” call, and you both wind up in the weeds?
Hours of service rules and regulations are based on study after study that suggests 14 hours is a long enough day. Beyond that the likelihood of a costly error increases significantly. Plan your work so you can maximize your productivity without exceeding your limit.
Knowing the signs and consequences of driving while fatigued seems to not be enough for all drivers and employers to manage it effectively – there are plenty of knowledgeable operators who still choose to drive while drowsy. Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators research found that perhaps the largest determinant in making that decision can be traced back to the macro-ergonomics of the industry – the pay structure, shipper requirements, receiver requirements, company policies which seem to work against truckers getting a good night’s rest. Surely there are things that individual truckers can do to manage fatigue in their work day, but there are also ways industry can demonstrate its safety leadership, and contribute to a resilient and reliable log-hauling industry.
Consider ways in which your shipping or receiving requirements can be adjusted without detrimentally impacting your facility’s needs. Can adjusting scale hours help? Lengthy delays in the mill yard are probably not passed directly on to your firm. But, over time, drivers recognize they are incurring time and effort for which they are not being paid, and the eyes of high-calibre drivers start to wander to other employers eager to attract and retain them. Can your competitive advantage be superior planning that helps your contractors achieve adequate phase separation so that they don’t have to load out first round before the processor starts at 5 a.m.? Can we help co-ordinate trucks among contractors so that everyone gets a 12- to 14-hour day, rather than some working a nine-hour day, and others working a 16-hour? Can an integrated dispatching system be employed to help truckers do what they do best without compromising their fatigue limits? The forest industry has done an admirable job of optimizing sawmill processes, so it is highly likely that we can co-operate to realize similarly advantageous efficiencies in the fibre procurement side.
An effective fatigue management strategy has responsibilities and rewards for each of us – drivers, owners, licensees, shippers and receivers. It’s not realistic to place the responsibility only on the shoulders of log haulers. Certainly, there are key steps that truckers can and should take to manage their workday to ensure that fatigue does not contribute to a costly error. There are also opportunities and accountabilities for industry leaders to search for ways to design, or redesign, the systems within which log haulers operate, to contribute to their individual success, and to ensure a log-hauling community that will deliver logs safely, and sustainably ... in spite of the January thaw.
Rick Walters is director of transportation safety at the BC Forest Safety Council. He researched and produced this article for Canadian Forest Industries.