Driver fatigue identified as a top health and safety risk for trucking operations in Ontario
Top 10 root causes of driver fatigue among professional truck drivers in Ontario
In February 2020, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) in partnership with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) organized a group of industry experts that met for two days to determine the root causes of driver fatigue in Ontario’s trucking sector. As part of their work, they also developed critical controls and specific activities that could be put in place to address driver fatigue in Ontario’s general trucking industry.
The list of the top 10 causes of driver fatigue, as identified by workers, supervisors, and employers in Ontario’s trucking sector is displayed in the infographic on pages 34-35 of Private Motor Carrier. More detailed information on the top causes of driver fatigue among professional truck drivers, is discussed in the accompanying technical paper available at www.ihsa.ca/driverfatigue.
Identifying solutions and controls
After identifying the top 10 causal factors of driver fatigue, the group of subject matter experts, led by Dr. Sujoy Dey of the MLTSD, identified possible solutions and controls for the top ranked risks. During the discussions, similar themes and proposed controls kept emerging that informed five key recommendations:
- classify truck driving as a skilled trade (Red Seal),
- review and address critical training gaps in mandatory entry-level training (MELT),
- mandatory graduated licensing for all truck drivers,
- greater enforcement of carriers who are non-compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Highway Traffic Act, and
- promote mental health and wellness among professional truck drivers.
These recommendations provide a foundation for the reduction in driver fatigue by focussing on systemic causal factors and not just the symptoms of driver fatigue. The trucking industry should focus immediately on addressing these five key recommendations.
“The group of industry experts shared their experience, made suggestions, and proposed potential controls to address the primary causal factors and identified systemic weaknesses in the industry,” says Michelle Roberts, IHSA Director, Stakeholder & Client Engagement. “IHSA is proud of our work as an advocate for improving professional truck driver training, non-compliant carrier enforcement, and the importance of driver mental health and wellness. This work is a strong first step toward meaningful changes for safer and healthier workplaces for professional truck drivers.”
Designate Truck Driving as a Red Seal Skilled Trade
Given the size of the vehicles being operated on public roads, the skill and knowledge required to safely inspect and operate them, and the high-risk activities required for the job, truck driving is a skilled profession and it would benefit companies, drivers, and road safety for all road users, if the profession is classified as a skilled trade. Designating truck driving as a Red Seal trade would guarantee a nationally-recognized standard for professional truck drivers across Canada.
Address Gaps in Mandatory Entry-level Training (MELT) and Graduated Licensing
Implementing enhancements to MELT and the graduated licensing system to align with a national standard and incorporating greater oversight in the monitoring of truck training schools, including implementing standards for certified instructors, is key to ensuring quality truck drivers emerge from the entry-level training programs.
Enact Greater Enforcement of Non-compliant Carriers and the Driver Inc. Business Model
The Driver Inc. structure misclassifies employees as independent contractors. Drivers are often lead to believe that the Driver Inc. structure will leave them with more money in their pockets, however, the misclassification enables the carrier to avoid paying WSIB premiums, employee benefits and vacation pay, as well as provides a loophole to avoid providing the protections and rights that employees are entitled to under the law – including health and safety provisions that help address driver fatigue.
Improve Supports for Truck Driver Mental Health and Wellness
Throughout the pandemic, the trucking sector has been deemed essential and truck drivers have carried on their critical work. This has underscored the numerous work and societal pressures that professional truck drivers face, including chronic overstress, pressure to meet deadlines, long hours, and isolation. It has also highlighted the critical need for better mental health supports for this group.
We know professional truck drivers face a stressful environment: being on the road and away from home for extended periods, as well as physical health factors like poor diet, lack of exercise, and reduced quality sleep. These are just some of the factors that can affect mental health, with depression, anxiety, and addiction as possible outcomes; yet truck drivers don’t typically have strong mental health support systems.
The general trucking industry urgently needs better policies and practices to minimize the trucking profession’s potentially harmful effects on driver mental health. These improvements would have a positive effect in reducing driver fatigue and increasing public safety.
How IHSA can Help
IHSA has developed a number of online educational resources to address driver fatigue and assist workplaces with strengthening their road safety plans, including driver fatigue tip sheets for employers and workers, and safety talks that address driver mental health that will be available in Spring 2021. These resources assist in communicating the hazards of driver fatigue and other hazards on the road and support the work of the driver fatigue root cause analysis results.
IHSA urges stakeholders in the trucking industry to visit www.ihsa.ca/driverfatigue to learn more about the industry-identified root causes and recommended solutions that address driver fatigue in the workplace. Working together, we can create safer working environments for all professional truck drivers and those with whom they share the road.