Employers need to monitor driver fatigue | IMPAC health and safety

18 July, 2018  |  News

Following the death of a worker who likely fell asleep at the wheel after working 197.25 hours in a fortnight, employers are strongly encouraged to have a fatigue management programme in place.

Joshua Park, an experienced tractor driver, had only been working for Michael Vining Contracting Ltd for two weeks when he died in the early hours of the morning at the end of October 2016. He had worked 16.75 hours on the day of the crash.


emiel molenaar 110153 unsplashThe agricultural employee died driving along a poorly lit road after working nearly 200 hours in a fortnight.  Photo by Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash


The court’s findings

Michael Vining Contracting Ltd pleaded guilty to a s36 charge laid under the HSW Act, on the basis that it had failed to manage the risks arising from employee fatigue.

It's the first sentencing for fatigue-related failings since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

For reasons which are suppressed, the fine of $325,000 that the Court potentially could’ve imposed was reduced to $10,000. The employer was also ordered to pay reparation of $80,000, and to pay costs incurred by the victim’s UK-based family of $9,361.

According to Safeguard, it was agreed in court that the company could have taken a number of measures, including:

•             having an effective fatigue management programme
•             ensuring that maximum work hours and minimum break hours were established
•             having a system for people to report concerns about fatigue
•             recognising the increased risk of fatigue at times of high seasonal workload
•             ensuring and instructing all staff to wear seatbelts on tractors.

Judge K B F Saunders said that monitoring the work hours of its staff, and reducing them where necessary, would have imposed some cost on the company, but that this cost would not be disproportionate when set against the risk of fatigue-related harm to workers.

“[The company] ought to have done more to protect Mr Park from the dangers of excessive working hours fatigue. It did not implement a formal fatigue plan to manage that day. It simply did not do enough.”


It’s an issue across multiple industries

Driver fatigue isn’t a new concept – nor is it restricted to one industry. Freight Lines Ltd, of the transport industry, was fined $86,000 in 2016 after one of their drivers fell asleep behind the wheel in 2014.

It took rescuers three hours to cut the driver out of the wreckage, and months of recovery in hospital and rehabilitation followed.

When imposing the fine, Christchurch District Court Judge Tom Gilbert said that the company had failed to allocate tasks in a way that reduced driver fatigue, or to train its dispatchers to deal with the issue, and that, “It is indisputable, the danger that the fatigue of drivers at the wheel of large truck and trailer units poses to the drivers and to other road users.”


What employers can do

Employers must have a fatigue management programme in place and monitor working hours, particularly when employees are required to work seasonal long hours and then drive home.

According to the New Zealand Transport Agency, fatigue was a factor in 30 fatal crashes in 2016. The NZTA have a great page on identifying and preventing driver fatigue, with links to resources, figures, and facts.

There are a few training courses available that employers can send their staff on to help raise drivers' awareness of fatigue prevention techniques. For more information, visit MITO (NZ Motor Industry Training Organisation) or ACC.