During the COVID-19 pandemic, fleet and workplace drivers have been recognized as heroes keeping America’s supply chain open. They’ve been impacted as federal regulations have been loosened relating to hours of service and how breaks are calculated.
In some cases, this has rekindled the old tug-of-war game of compliance versus safety. While it may be legal to put in long hours, is it safe? For drivers, studies show being awake for between 18 and 24 hours can be similar to the effects of alcohol-impairment.
Managing fatigue is more important now than ever as the rest of the U.S. workforce begins to return to work, too. More than 40% of workers are sleep-deprived in normal times. Fatigue doesn’t care what the circumstances are, and its effects can be far-reaching, impacting all aspects of daily life. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to reach peak performance levels. In fact, researchers agree a good night’s sleep can reduce stress levels, increase memory and lower your blood pressure.
During March, as shelter-in-place orders took hold and the roads largely emptied, speed and reckless driving behaviors contributed to a 14% nationwide year-over-year jump in traffic fatality rates per miles driven. Moving forward, as the roads once again become more congested, mental distractions are likely to occur at a greater rate than before. That, combined with physical distractions, makes for a risky combination.
People are worried about their own health and the wellbeing of their family and struggling to come to grips with challenges of putting food on the table and making monthly rent or mortgage payments. Their minds are racing. Safe driving requires full attention.
In this environment, safety leaders need to check in often with employees and lead communications with an empathetic voice. Evaluation policies and procedures take on greater importance as this is not business as usual, not yet.
Drivers can benefit from basic reminders and training refresher courses. The rules of the road still apply. Safety is a non-negotiable core value. Safety is also a way to build a better future.
– Lisa Robinson is a senior program manager with the National Safety Council