Businesses must be “realistic and respectful about the limitations of humans”, fatigue-related safety programmes expert tells Australian forum

The head of risk-based fatigue management company Australian Integrated Safety Support Adam Fletcher (pictured) was speaking at an educational forum on human behaviour, road safety and risk mitigation held by the Zurich Australian Insurance risk engineering team in Sydney last week.

Fletcher told the Zurich Road Safety Forum audience that technology posed threats and offered opportunities to the operational safety, efficiency and cost management of companies running fleets of vehicles.

“Technology will increasingly eliminate and reduce the associated operational risks of human limitations, but in the short term we often go through transitions towards more stable more productive places via riskier periods when we change procedures, roles and systems,” he said.

“Often very well meaning safety initiatives are implemented without foresight and reflection on the above.”

Humans remain critical in many roles, Fletcher added, and there was a need to manage the risks associated with their performance.

“The human brain and associated body functions evolve very slowly when it comes to changes in the light/dark cycle,” he said.

“Put simply, we are not programmed to be fully alert and productive 24/7/365.”

Clients often asked him how they could maintain and enhance both safety and productivity at the same time, Fletcher added.

“You need simultaneous benefits of any technology for the driver, company and operation, otherwise it won’t work and may damage relationships,” he said.

Capturing data and responding to it was of utmost importance, Fletcher said, through the use of hazard reports, employee views, data for work hours accidents, production figures, audit and assurance data, risk profile maps and change data.

“You only need a combination of a few of these metrics,” he said.

“A huge volume of data is not the answer. I’d rather see a 50% solution implemented 95% than a well intentioned resource implemented 20% that takes people away from their day-to-day job.”

Burden of crashes

Senior research fellow at the University of NSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre Lori Mooren spoke at the forum about cost burden of work-related road crashes.

She said that there were many things that could be done at an operational level to reduce company fleet crash rates.

“Leadership, communication and safety culture are at the hub of the wheel,” she said.

“[That means] policies, procedures, recruiting, inducting and managing on a day-to day-basis, as well as safe vehicles.”

Mooren said the business case for road safety included: reduced running costs through better driving standards; fewer working days lost due to injury; reduced risk of work-related ill health; less need for investigation and paperwork; fewer vehicles off the road for repair; and less threat to reputation.

She added that firms needed to provide clear incentives for employees to drive safely, and disincentives for them to take unacceptable risks.

“Safety culture is a vital ingredient in work related safety and road safety in general,” she said.

Zurich Risk Engineering’s customer relationship manager (Asia Pacific) Mervyn Rea noted that the forum was designed for transportation and logistics companies, “bringing them new insights around risk exposures and controls, from a local and global perspective, and helping them to educate drivers and operators”.

“At Zurich, we look at road safety in a holistic way,” Rea said.

“In our quest to help everyone understand and mitigate risk, we share our experience with industry associations and cross-functional groups and programmes.

“We are proud to bring our customers insights from highly regarded experts in this field.”