Each year as I write my January editorial, it’s early December, and I am often refl ...
ecting on the year that is almost over and the new one around the corner. As you read this, it’s 2021 and the start of a brand-new calendar-year full of projects, projections - and COVID-19.
This pandemic has thrown the world for a loop, and the ride is not over. And throughout it all, the vocational truck fleet industry has worked tirelessly, keeping deliveries on schedule and ensuring that necessary services were still being done to help people stay safely home.
Many are tired, struggling, and burning out as we near the pandemic’s one-year mark. Regardless of beliefs, we have all been impacted in some way. The fatigue is real. But work trucks must keep running. The wheels are turning, and the rubber is hitting the road.
How do you fight driver fatigue as well as your own day-to-day management? How do you help your staff focus on the job at hand while being understanding and compassionate of a world turned upside down?
1. Have a Plan
First and foremost, any business continuing operations in any capacity must have a plan in place, specifying exactly how to handle a potential or positive case. Fleet managers must consider more than just a business office but the health and safety of their drivers on the road, whether local, return-to-base or long-haul over-the-road and everyone in between.
2. Keep Communication Open
Make sure all employees know whom to call and what to do if they are not feeling well or are diagnosed with COVID-19. If someone has symptoms, don’t plan on the driver self-isolating a terminal, have a plan in place and a direct line of contact for immediate action.
3. Keep Drivers Focused Through Incentives & Gamification
One way you can help keep drivers focused and motivated is through incentives or gamification. There are several ways to promote safe driving, and it doesn’t have to cost the company much if anything. Options can include basic accolades in meetings or newsletters or gift cards to favorite local restaurantsfor take-out.
4. Promote Health & Wellness
Mental and physical health is usually a struggle for fleet drivers, and today, with many gyms closed or limited, personal health and wellness has never been more important. Encourage drivers to get exercise in any safe way they can. Promote the value of proper sleep and eating habits (and make sure your routing and scheduling allow for it!) and ensure that all employees know when they are well enough to work – and when they are not.
5. Take it Day by Day & Be Flexible
It’s not only hard to plan for an uncertain future; it’s downright impossible. With regulations varying not only by state but what can feel like week-to-week or even day-to-day, it’s essential to take each day one at a time and focus on the solvable problems and what you can accomplish that day with the resources available.
6. Burnout IS Real
Currently, those still working are experiencing an interesting dichotomy. There is an intense feeling of gratitude and thankfulness that income is being generated, but many are alsofacing burnout.Many businesses have had to downsize and operate with smaller staff sizes. Some fleets, especially those in the last-mile delivery arena, have seen the demand for their services explode.
And, while some fleets can utilize a quick short-term rental unit when a business has an unanticipated peak, last-mile delivery often requires specialized upfits and vehicles to accomplish the job, ending up with more demand than the supply chain can support.
The Bottom Line
This is a tough topic and a tough time. Regardless of beliefs, it’s crucial to look at your fleet and the people who make it run every day and make sure they are happy, healthy, and able to thrive. I urge all of you to think about your staff’s wellbeing as the new year begins, and I look forward to writing to a different tune at the start of 2022.
What are you currently doing to help combat COVID-19-related fatigue and help keep your drivers and fleet-related staff motivated and on task?
Being a diligent driver starts with being aware – drowsy driving is preventable.
Sleepiness can slow down your reaction time, decrease awareness, impair judgment, and increase your risk of crashing. Whenever you are getting ready to drive, ask yourself, “Am I alert enough to operate a 3,000-pound moving machine on public roads?”
Before getting into the car with someone or driving yourself, ask the following:
1. Are you sleep-deprived or fatigued? Are you suffering regularly from sleep problems? Less than 6 hours of sleep triples your risk of falling asleep while driving!
2. Are you planning to drive long distances without proper rest breaks?
3. Will you be driving through the night, mid-afternoon, or when you would normally be asleep?
4. Are you taking medications that can make you sleepy such as antidepressants, cold tablets, or antihistamines?
5. Have you been working for more than 60 hours a week? A tightly-packed work schedule increases your risk of drowsy driving by 40%.
6. Have you been working more than one job and your main job involves shift work?
7. Did you drink alcohol? Even a small amount of alcohol can have an impact on your body.
Be proactive. Plan every short and long trip ahead of time. Ask a friend to join you on long-distance drives, so that your companion can help look for early warning signs of driver fatigue and switch drivers when needed.
8 Drowsy Driving Warning Signs to Watch for:
1. Finding it hard to focus on the road, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
2. Starting to daydream, wandering eyes, and have disconnected thoughts
3. Having trouble remembering the last few miles driven
4. Missing an exit or ignoring traffic signs
5. Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
6. Finding it hard to keep your head up or nodding off
7. Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
8. Feeling restless and irritable, or becoming aggravated with common annoyances such as sitting in traffic.
If you notice these warning signs for drowsy driving, pull over to a safe place and get some rest, stretch, or drink a caffeinated beverage. Continue driving when you feel alert and refreshed.
Specific At-Risk Groups for driving sleep-deprived
Some groups of drivers are at greater risk for drowsy-driving crashes. Research has shown there are 5 key groups of focus.
- Young drivers — especially males under 25 years old.
- Shift workers and people with long work hours — working the night shift can increase your risk of drowsy driving by nearly six times. Rotating-shift workers and people working more than 60 hours a week need to be particularly careful.
- Commercial drivers — especially long-haul drivers. At least 15% of all heavy truck crashes involve fatigue and sleep-deprived driving.
- People with undiagnosed or untreated disorders — People with untreated obstructive sleep apnea have up to seven times the risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
- Business travelers — who spend long hours driving or may be jet-lagged from a previous trip.
For more information about drowsy driving, visit the Drowsy Driving Prevention Week page to learn more.
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