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How Ontario’s general trucking sector can address driver fatigue among professional drivers

Traffic conditions, unhealthy lifestyles, mental health, lack of education to recognize driver fatigue, and training gaps in licensing all appear in the top five causal factors of driver fatigue. To better understand the root causes of driver fatigue on the job, 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 to gather insight.

The group was made up of drivers, supervisors, and employers in the transportation industry. They met for two days in November 2019 to determine the root causes of driver fatigue in Ontario’s trucking sector. Together, they identified 66 root causes of driver fatigue and then voted to prioritize a top 10 list according to the likelihood that these factors would contribute to driver fatigue.

Traffic conditions, unhealthy lifestyles, mental health, lack of education to recognize driver fatigue, and training gaps in licensing all appear in the top five causal factors. Infographic: Top 10 root causes of driver fatigue in general trucking operations Background on IHSA’s collaboration with the MLTSD on risk assessment and root cause analysis workshops

What we as an industry should focus on immediately After identifying the top 10 causal factors of driver fatigue, the group of industry representatives, including workers and employers, 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:

  1. Classify truck driving as a skilled trade (Red Seal)
  2. Review and address critical training gaps in mandatory entry-level training (MELT)
  3. Make graduated licensing mandatory for all truck drivers
  4. Increase enforcement of non-compliant carriers
  5. Promote mental health and wellness among professional truck drivers.

These recommendations provide a foundation for reducing driver fatigue by focussing on systemic causal factors and not just the symptoms.

More detailed information on the top causes of driver fatigue among professional truck drivers can be found in the accompanying technical paper, Root cause analysis report of driver fatigue among professional truck drivers in Ontario. Designating 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 were 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. Addressing 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.

Increasing enforcement of non-compliant carriers and the Driver Inc. business model The Driver Inc. structure misclassifies employees as independent contractors. Drivers are often led 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, it 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. Improving 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 that professional truck drivers face a stressful environment–being on the road and away from home for extended periods, as well as physical health factors such as 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. And 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 tip sheets for employers and workers, and safety talks that address driver mental health, which will be available in Spring 2021. IHSA urges stakeholders in the trucking industry to visit ihsa.ca/driverfatigue to learn more about industry-identified root causes of driver fatigue and recommended solutions.

Working together, we can create safer working environments for all professional truck drivers and those who share the road with them.