Fatigue management programs in the road transport industry

Fatigue and fatigue management has attracted considerable interest in the long distance road transport industry over the last few years because it has been acknowledged increasingly as one of the industry's major problems. The research that has occurred because of this interest has clarified a number of aspects of the problem. Most notably it has shown that regulatory approaches that are generic and attempt to limit working hours and manage rest in a "one size fits all" approach is not necessarily the best approach (Williamson, Feyer, Coumarelos and Jenkins, 1992; Feyer, Williamson, Jenkin and Higgins, 1993; Arnold, Hartley, Penna, Hochstadt, Corry, & Feyer, 1996). Not only are such approaches difficult to implement and police, surveys of drivers and the industry indicate that regulatory approaches are unlikely to succeed because they do not accommodate the differing needs for rest between individual drivers or the differing operational needs of companies.

With the introduction by Queensland Department of Transport of an alternative compliance approach, the Fatigue Management Programme, the focus has moved to increasing the flexibility available to companies and drivers to manage fatigue in ways that suit them, rather than trying to match their work demands to the working hours regulations. The programme attempts to encourage companies to take a primary role in planning for fatigue management by developing Fatigue Management Programmes (FMP'S) for work-rest scheduling on particular routes. While this approach is clearly in harmony with the findings of the research on fatigue, it has some fundamental difficulties, most notably because there is very little information available on what constitutes effective alternative work-rest schedules in comparison to the working hours regulations. If the FMPs are to be useful, it is imperative that the work-rest schedules they allow offer no loss in the ability of drivers to manage fatigue, and preferably that they improve fatigue management.

One way of improving the effectiveness of the FMP approach is to develop a range of model work-rest schedules that have demonstrated effectiveness for managing fatigue. These models can then help in designing work-rest schedules that provide additional flexibility for companies and drivers to meet their operational needs, but still manage driver fatigue most effectively. The aim of this project was to begin to develop some model work-rest schedules by evaluating work-rest schedules that had been operating under the current regulated regime and some FMP approaches that had been allowed to begin operating under the pilot FMP scheme.


This project has demonstrated that evaluation of work-rest schedules using standardised and sensitive methods for measuring fatigue is an effective approach to fatigue management. The results have identified work-rest schedules which have demonstrated capacity to manage fatigue as well as identifying the features of work-rest schedules which need to be modified to ensure that fatigue is maintained at the lowest possible levels.

Evaluation of the current working hours regime suggests that provided drivers are rested to begin with, one full cycle of the regulated regime does not produce fatigue or performance capacity decrements that are of concern for safety. There is considerable evidence however that performance decrements increase significantly as the schedule becomes more demanding. This is a warning signal for the development of alternative approaches to ensure that schedules are designed that do not simply increase the demands on drivers. The evidence from both evaluations of alternative FMP approaches reinforces these conclusions as the results for both alternative compliance schedules suggested that they increased the demands on drivers, but did not balance them sufficiently with rest in order to allow recuperation and recovery from accumulated fatigue. These results do not mean that the working hours regulatory regime is the only satisfactory approach to managing fatigue. The results show clearly that it is possible to increase trip length to 16 hours, say, and still maintain good performance levels. It is not possible, however, to continue to do 16 hour trips without a longer break than is usually allowed, even in the regulated regime.

The challenge for the road transport industry now is to use information like this and build on it to provide better guidance to drivers and companies on how to trade-off work and rest safely. These evaluations show that greater flexibility in scheduling is possible, but that it needs to be evaluated carefully. The development of model work-rest schedules that have been evaluated is clearly one way of assisting the industry down the path of better fatigue management.