Sleep Deprivation is a Major Contributor to Trucking Accidents — What are You Doing to Prevent It?

9/25/2018
Sleep deprivation in truckers
  • Tight deadlines and long distances mean truckers routinely drive with sleep deprivation
  • The effects of sleep deprivation increase risk of accident enormously
  • Sleep deprivation can be related to sleep disorders
  • Employers should understand their role in reducing risk and preventing accidents

The Trucking Industry is the Number One Source of WCB Claims in Alberta

That’s a worrying stat if you’re an employer. There’s money on the line, your company’s reputation, your equipment — and not least of all, the health of your employees.

We’ve written recently on the effects of sleep deprivation. It’s one thing for office workers to skip a few hours of sleep and make a mistake on paperwork — but it’s quite another for a driver to be careening down the highway falling asleep. You wouldn’t want your truckers driving with alcohol in their systems, but sleep deprivation can impair them just as much.

The Causes of Sleep Deprivation in Truckers

It’s no surprise that the realities in many companies of having to meet a strict deadlines produce situations where drivers aren’t getting enough sleep, and the risk of demanding looser deadlines always comes with the danger of the competition sweeping in.

Long hauls with few breaks take their toll on any body. There’s simply only so much a trucker can do to remain optimally alert when they’re sitting in the same place for hours on end knowing that they have to be at their destination on-time.

It’s one thing to have an official policy of mandatory breaks, limits on consecutive hours on the road, and an understanding that safety is number one. Unfortunately, it’s often a lot harder to enforce — whether because forces in the company continue producing unrealistic and unsafe deadlines, or because truckers themselves put the deadline ahead of their health.

What Trucking Employers Should do to Mitigate Sleep Deprivation Risk

When it really comes down to it, nothing is worth the injury, loss of life, loss of product, cost of repair, hit to reputation, and cost of investigation and resolution involved in a brutal trucking accident.

So, what can an employer do? There are various safety technologies available that reduce the chance of an accident, such as tools that sound alarms in the truck cab when it detects the driver losing focus — but nothing will be as effective as having well-rested drivers a priority. That means having the flexibility in your schedules such that they can get enough sleep and ensuring that they know you expect them to get it.

Your schedules should be built with ample time to allow for breaks every three hours, and full nights of sleep. And your drivers should know that when the unexpected occurs — such as lost time through traffic — that sufficient sleep remains a priority. You should also try to minimize deliveries that involve extended driving at night: reducing disruption to natural sleep cycles.

How Employers Can Handle Sleep Disorders

There’s certainly scope for a sleep disorder developing in a person who routinely skips sleep or has to sleep at unusual hours. These disorders can have serious effects on your employee’s ability to actually get that sleep — and can increase the chances of them suffering from the effects of sleep deprivation during the day.

When you suspect this could be happening, it may be time to enlist some outside help to get some clarity on the situation. Truckers will of course have their own doctors, but there are ways that you can get an independent verification of an issue — involving a specialist.

These Independent Medical Evaluations can get you speedy clarity on a medical issue — whether it’s a sleep disorder or the extent of an injury from a trucking accident, allowing you to better arrive at a mutual resolution and, if relevant, a safe, effective return to work.

If you ever have any questions about the health of your employees, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Medical Director, Dr. Roger Hodkinson, to find out more at 780.433.1191.

Author: WMA


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