Fleet News

Soapbox: Caffeine drinks and drugs are no answer to the problem

The main problem to date with this work, however, is that ‘coffee (caffeine) and a nap’ appears to be getting a large chunk of the attention rather than some important larger and wider issues.

Recent headlines such as ‘European court backs ban on Red Bull over health concerns’ (The Independent), ‘French ban can clip Red Bull's wings’ (The Times), ‘Concerns have again been raised about the energy drink, Red Bull, after the deaths of three people in Sweden’ (BBC) all confirm the high risks involved in advocating drug use as a countermeasure for fatigue.

Although not illegal, caffeine is a drug, which means that we are advising drivers to use drugs to stay awake. If using caffeine to stay awake is seen as OK, many drivers may be encouraged to take other stronger drugs such as amphetamines.

Taking a nap when they feel tired on the job may not be realistic or an appealing option to busy fleet drivers, their managers and customers, who have to ‘get the job done’.

Another key problem is actually proving that fatigue was an underlying or more immediate causal factor in many work-related crashes – the current ‘do not admit liability culture’, legal requirements and fear of litigation if a detailed investigation finds any gaps in policies and procedures, make it unlikely that a driver or their organisation would openly admit fatigue was a factor.

Focusing on fatigue alone may also be too narrow and a ‘single’ issue, which over-simplifies a much more complex problem. We believe a shift may be required towards a wider focus on ‘driver well-being’.

What do we mean by ‘driver well-being’?

  • Health
  • Eyesight
  • Drugs (legal and illegal) and alcohol
  • Lifestyle and diet
  • Worklife balance
  • Rest/sleep
  • Conflicts in their work and home life
  • Better, more understanding management.

    At a recent Brake conference some shocking statistics emerged:

  • Three out of 86 delegates had a drink/drugs policy
  • Four out of 86 had a tiredness policy
  • Five out of 86 had an eyesight testing policy
  • Two out of 86 had a counselling service for work and home-related conflicts.

    We suspect these figures are not untypical of the whole transport industry in the UK and would like to encourage a debate to widen the ‘fatigue agenda’ to focus on driver well-being as a whole.

    Reliance on drugs such as ‘caffeine’, and in some cases something much stronger, is not a realistic long term solution to fatigue among fleet drivers and other workers. In Australia, for example, where fatigue is a major issue due to the distances involved, there is increasing evidence of heavy truck drivers using stimulants like amphetamines to stay awake – and then needing to use relaxants like cannabis to come down off them to allow sleep at the end of the working day.

    In Australia, they have moved away from short-term ‘caffeine-based’ solutions, towards well risk- assessed and managed health and lifestyle-based solutions. More and better sleep as part of a healthier lifestyle is the only long-term sustainable countermeasure to fatigue and driver well-being. Drug use, even coffee, is not the answer. Better work and shift planning, a better work-life balance and a more supportive and understanding working environment, as part of a wider emphasis on work-related road safety, are all much more important issues for the health, well-being and tiredness of fleet and other drivers.

  • Does something in the LCV fleet industry get YOU hot under the collar? E-mail trevor.gelken@emap.com and take your turn on the Fleet Van soapbox.
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