'1 in 6 bus drivers fall asleep at the wheel' highlights Unite protest

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan sought to reassure bus drivers at a protest organised by Unite yesterday, saying that he would do more to address fatigue after a major report revealed the issue is blighting the sector.

Addressing the assembled drivers and their union representatives, Sadiq Khan Mayor, said: “I’m really proud to be the son of a bus driver. What I’m not proud about are the conditions that bus drivers are working under in our city.

“This report is a world’s first because of the lobbying of Unite, it’s shown that the fatigue bus drivers face is unacceptable. Some of the fatigue bus drivers endure is eye opening and is a wake up call for TfL to do much more to improve conditions.”

The independent research report Bus Driver Fatigue, published 28 August, by Loughborough university, is a major literature review of current evidence on bus driver fatigue, as well as results of a survey of 25,000 drivers on London’s bus network.  It found that around one in three (36 per cent) drivers had a ‘close call’ due to fatigue in the past 12 months. Further, one in six (17 per cent) had fallen asleep at the wheel at least once while driving.

The report uncovered a litany of issues contributing to fatigue which were raised by speakers at the event.

Safety Management went to find out more about these and what’s at the heart of the issue and why it’s a threat to safety.

Unrealistic deadlines 

One of the problems highlighted by the report was 'unrealistic scheduling' whereby drivers end up working longer hours in order to complete their route. This can be difficult given the traffic in London and reduce the break time they have to recover between shifts.

Hashi Jama, a driver with London’s TfL for 23 years, told us: “London population is growing and traffic is increasing roads are getting narrower and the jobs we do does not reflect that - there are tighter deadlines for finishing trips.

Mr Hashi Jama: "My job has been compromised by fatigue."

"To accommodate this it’s tiring. I often finish my job two, three hours later than I would normally and there’s nothing I can do about that. That’s a routine. Five, seven days a week. So my job has increased, I’m tired and also we have a life outside of work so when you go home you have to do chores or whatever, that increases the risk of the driver on the road. My job as a driver is all about the safety on the road, so my job has been compromised. The condition of driving in terms of safety is getting ever worse.”

Rest breaks and toilets

The report found that some drivers resort to restricting their water intake “for fear of needing to urinate whilst not having access to these facilities.”  It said there was a lack of rooms to rest in at garages or sleep in before shifts and during breaks, which contribute to fatigue in the sector.

Driver Tim Kelly spoke about regularly being forced to “having to walk down a high street looking for a coffee shop that’ll allow you to go into the toilet.” In his speech he echoed the report’s recommendations for adequate driver facilities relating to rest and napping and eating, which is an important aspect of ‘fatigue management’.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the issue of fatigue was 'eye-opening and unacceptable'

Mr Jama added in his interview with us that there are often no facilities or toilets where his bus terminates when he’d normally get out for a break after driving “four hours straight without leaving the cab”: “At the end of that you don’t have anything. I’ll say I need the toilet and they suspend you from work and send you home, it’s intimidating and terrorising. They’ll push you as much as they can. It’s not their priority.”

Several of the speakers pointed out that TfL’s tendering system, whereby contracts are bidded for every five years to run the bus routes, is adding to a cost-cutting culture that promotes fatigue and stress. Steve O’Rourke, bus driver for over 30 years said: “The majority of bus drivers are breaking the speed limit daily. Why? So they finish on time, so they’re not under stress and pressure.

“Stress is a growing problem in our industry – when you’re depressed you’re tired, make mistakes, the company tells you off for that and adds more stress and pressure. It’s a vicious circle.”

Unite regional officer, John Murphy wants TfL to take forward all the actions put in Loughborough university's report Unite helped commission

Open culture

The report talks about the need for an open culture for any of its recommendations and solutions to work. “Strategies such as establishing a reporting system to monitor fatigue or creating rest facilities for napping will not be effective if there is no overarching open culture, where individuals feel supported in discussing fatigue and implementing strategies related to health and well-being.”

Unite regional officer, John Murphy agreed, telling Safety Management: “They don’t help drivers with fatigue, they punish them.”

“Two things happen when a driver might say he’s fatigued to management: the absence policy and disciplinary policy. It’s not helpful.” He said there needs to be more empathy regarding life outside of work and how that impacts on work such as family crisis.

The Loughborough report was published as the result of lobbying from Unite, but it’s not the only recent research. In 2017 the London Assembly report Driven to Distraction found 25 people have been killed by buses in London, and a further 12,000 injured, identifying excessive hours, with inadequate time for breaks, as factors that compromise safety.

Unite says TfL’s solutions brought in the wake of this such as fatigue management technology have so far failed to address the core issues such as better wages, less reliance on over time, proper rostas, proper shift breaks, proper rest breaks.

“We’re not confident TfL is going to take forward the actions – I don’t see them changing opinions overnight. But we are going to resolve this,” said Murphy.

Bus Driver Fatigue - Loughborough university's report here


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