Safety behind the wheel
The transport industry is the backbone of the country’s economy, and ensuring drivers are healthy and safe is critical to a smooth-running supply chain. Occupational health and safety (OHS) officers need to cover everything from alcohol and drug prevention to trauma counselling and spill kits.
The transport industry is key to delivering goods to consumers while contributing significantly to the economy. In the first quarter of 2018, the gross domestic product (GDP) from the transport industry was at an all-time high of R271 billion. The cornerstone of the transport industry, however, is the drivers, who must make sure that the vehicles in their care arrive safely.
OHS officers in the transport industry play an important role in ensuring that drivers are safe and capable of delivering goods. It is essential that drivers do not operate a vehicle while under the influence, fatigued or distracted, as this could increase their risk of an accident. Drivers are also at risk of a number of health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure.
An estimated 25 percent of South African truck drivers have admitted to being in an accident as a result of sleepiness. Truck drivers should not work more than 90 hours a week and ideally should have sufficient rest periods between long-haul trips.
Software is available to assist in monitoring fatigue among drivers: there are systems that alert drivers and transport operators when the vehicle swerves or when the driver needs to rest. In-cab cameras can also assist transport operators to monitor whether the driver is distracted (for example, using their phones while driving) and discourage this dangerous behaviour.
Transport operators should also frequently test for drug and alcohol abuse. Rhys Evans, MD of Alco-Safe, says: “Due to long working hours, time pressures and a generally high-stress environment, alcohol and drug use is very common in the transport sector.
“Drivers may regard the use of drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. The effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain increase the risk of an accident in an already high-risk industry. Poor decision-making and the taking of risks (that a sober person would not take) are common behaviours among people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
He adds that simply educating drivers on the effects of driving under the influence might not be enough. Conducting regular alcohol and drug tests is essential to check that drivers comply with the company’s substance-abuse policies. Ideally, transport operators should test for substances when drivers enter and leave depots, as well as randomly or when there are grounds for suspected abuse.
Transport operators can equip the vehicle with technology that prevents the driver from starting the vehicle before their alcohol levels have been tested. This is particularly indicated for long-haul truck drivers who might engage in substance abuse during the journey.
Evans notes that Alco-Safe has a range of equipment available to assist with alcohol testing. He says: “High-speed breathalysers make it very simple to test all employees as they enter or leave a depot every day. Further testing can be done using breathalysers that have printing kits. The printouts are an effective way of keeping a record of tests for disciplinary hearings, should that be part of the company’s procedure.
“Drug tests, specifically saliva-based drug tests, are quick and easy to use, and give an indication of recent drug use. Regularly testing drivers when they return from deliveries could become a very strong deterrent to drug use in the future.”
With the recent decriminalisation of marijuana, transport operators now need to test whether the driver is under the influence while at work rather than whether they have used the drug at all. Because residue of the drug can remain in the body for a couple of days or even weeks, it is important for transport operators to invest in equipment that identifies the current state of the individual.
Saliva tests are also less invasive than urine testing. Evans says that saliva testing can be conducted by trained OHS managers or security officers. Alco-Safe also offers educational booklets for employees, which dispel the myths that drugs and alcohol improve driving.
The fitness of a driver impacts his or her ability to stay alert and react appropriately to changing driving conditions. Truck drivers are prone to back and neck problems from the long hours spent sitting in a cramped seat. They are also at risk of developing chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes due to poor eating habits. Drivers are prone to snacking while driving to keep themselves awake and often indulge in unhealthy, fatty food. They also often drink coffee to excess, smoke a lot and exercise very little. The stress involved in the transport industry further contributes to the potential for strokes, diabetes, heart conditions and circulatory problems.
To create greater awareness among drivers of the impact of their behaviour, transport operators or OHS officers can conduct frequent health screenings to check for blood pressure, glucose levels and any sexually transmitted diseases. Drivers can be educated on the benefits of healthy eating, frequent stops to stretch, exercising and getting enough sleep.
OHS officers can provide drivers with tips on how to plan ahead, pack healthy meals and snacks, and provide cushions to support the back. Drivers can also work in pairs to relieve each other; however, it is important to ensure that the off-duty driver is resting.
Truck drivers, especially long-haul drivers, are also at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV. An estimated seven million South Africans are HIV positive, according to the 2017 mid-year statistics published by
Stats SA. Sex workers and their partners are among the most vulnerable, with a prevalence rate of 57,7 percent among female sex workers.
Long-distance truck drivers who engage in unprotected intercourse with sex workers are thus also at great risk. A 2014 study found that 90 percent of female sex workers along the N3 highway between KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State are infected with HIV.
Despite access to wellness centres, drivers tend not to go for tests. HIV self-testing kits are being introduced in South Africa and may play an important role in encouraging drivers to test themselves for any diseases. While the privacy and ease of use of the HIV self-testing kits might encourage more drivers to check their status, the cost of these kits could create a barrier.
To overcome this obstacle, OHS officers can supply these kits to drivers. It is also important for drivers to know how to use the kit, and when to seek further medical treatment to confirm their status and start taking antiretroviral medication.
In addition to taking care of the physical health of drivers. OHS officers should ensure that they are prepared for any environmental challenges they might face. Drivers need to have some essential tools, such as a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit and a spill kit, on board in case of an accident. Spill kits will allow the driver to contain a spill from the vehicle to prevent damage to the surrounding area.
Drivers should also receive training to use the equipment, including training on basic first aid, firefighting, inspection of the vehicle and responding to spills as well as accident and hijacking prevention. Drivers who transport valuable goods are especially at risk and need to know how to avoid being hijacked and how to respond if a hijacking takes place.
Arrive Alive recommends that drivers receive training on dealing with protest action and looting, while effectively planning their routes, monitoring news broadcasts, continuously remaining in contact with the transport operator or control centre and communicating with fellow truck drivers regarding any dangers.
Emergency contact numbers for local police, fire and ambulance services should be kept close at hand. The driver could also receive self-defence training.
With tracking and monitoring devices, transport operators can assist by alerting a driver when they are diverting from the planned route and might be placing themselves at risk.
If an accident or hijacking does occur, it is important for transport operators to provide the driver with trauma counselling to ensure that they are in a good mental state to continue working. Drivers will respond to incidents and trauma differently. It is important to keep an eye out for behaviour that might point to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A driver suffering from PTSD, might become more timid and reserved or more aggressive and defensive. The latter is especially concerning as it could lead to road rage, which often leads to reckless behaviour. However, the most common symptoms of PTSD include difficulty sleeping, difficulty staying awake, panic attacks, and problems concentrating. Substance abuse could also point to PTSD.
Arrive Alive notes that anti-anxiety medication might be unsafe to use while driving; and it is essential to ensure that the medication does not affect the driver’s capabilities. In addition to professional help, drivers can engage in more physical activity to relieve stress and cope with PTSD, get adequate rest, eat nutritious meals, limit exposure to negative or upsetting media reports, and discuss challenges with fellow drivers and transport operators.
To further assist in managing the health of drivers and other risks facing the transport industry, such as overloading, transport operators can implement the Road Transport Management System (RTMS), which is an industry-led, government-supported, voluntary, self-regulation scheme.
Oliver Naidoo, certification manager at JC Auditors, notes: “RTMS is important as it allows transport operators to implement a structured mechanism to mitigate the risks related to road transport. The structured and consistent implementation of the RTMS standard is especially significant in the light of South Africa’s poor record of road safety.”
He says that approximately 55 workshops on RTMS have been held across South Africa since 2007, which included case studies from transport operators who have implemented the system.
Some of the reported benefits include reducing vehicle overloading, downtime, vehicle breakdowns, crashes and collisions, as well as, in some cases, improved fuel consumption and better driver attitude.
Naidoo adds that transport operators often mistakenly assume that special software needs to be bought.
“The RTMS standard does not require any special software or system. Each operator will implement appropriate processes based on their unique business context and operations. Transporters also believe that a safety file would satisfy the RTMS requirement, but a safety file in itself fails to address the requirements,” he says.
“Rather, the operator would need to indicate what measures are in place to address all 13 elements of the RTMS standard. The safety file may be used to demonstrate compliance to some of the requirements.”
Transport operators also often assume that a consultant is essential to implementing the system. Again, it is best for the company to use its discretion.
“The vast majority of RTMS-certified companies have used internal resources to implement the requirements. Many operators have indicated that this approach offered a more sustainable and effective way of implementing the standard.”
On implementing RTMS, transport operators often perform inadequate risk assessments, have vehicle service schedules that do not make provision for the vehicle original equipment manufacturer’s specified intervals, and fail to schedule trailer servicing and to survey tyres.
Vehicle pre-trip inspection is often inconsistently implemented; driver medical-fitness certificates are sometimes unavailable; and fatigue can be mismanaged.
JC Auditors is a South African National Accreditation System (SANAS)-accredited RTMS certification body that provides RTMS certification services, including pre-accreditation, stage one and certification audits.
“The RTMS certification validates that a transporter operates in a safe, compliant and professional manner. In addition to the internal safety and efficiency benefits, RTMS-certified transport operators are increasingly receiving preference by various consignors and consignees,” Naidoo notes.
Transport operators that are aiming to be RTMS-certified need to submit their key performance indicators in the RTMS quarterly report published via the RTMS website (www.rtms.co.za). A diligent internal audit report and management review also need to be carried out at least once a year to verify that the operator maintains consistent compliance to the RTMS standards.
Naidoo notes that while there are often adequate measures to protect employees within the workplace, this doesn’t always extend to their journey. “This same diligent approach to workplace safety is often not applied to the company’s risk impact on public roadways.
“A truck driver, for example, may be rigorously monitored while at the depot, but, once they leave, the same attention is not given. Transport operators ought to ensure the same diligence and vigilance to employee safety whether on site or on the road.
“In fact, the risks on a public road are usually far greater than those in a defined workplace. If anything, there needs to be a greater focus on employee safety in the high-risk environment of a public road. The RTMS can be used as a tool to address compliance with the National Road Traffic Act and promote a positive road-safety culture,” he concludes.
One example of a transport operator that takes its health and safety obligations seriously is Cargo Carriers. It has been operating in the industry for more than 60 years and continues to demonstrate its commitment to excellence as a strategic partner to South African steel, fuel, chemicals and powder-based product manufacturers.
In 2018, the company’s revenue-earning fleet covered well over 19-billion kilometres to ensure the timely delivery of fuels to mines, cement to construction sites, gases to health facilities, and chemical and steel products to various industrial sectors.
The transport operator’s commitment to health, safety and the environment is demonstrated by its robust integrated systems that provide a holistic view of safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ).
Certified by independent third-party accreditation body Dekra, the company’s policies and procedures are regularly reviewed and updated, while all employees undergo regular training to update risk-assessment and reporting standards.
The company conducts its own bi-annual internal SHEQ audits to monitor health and safety standards across the group; and the outcomes are used as critical benchmarks to implement improvements wherever possible.
With comprehensive health and safety procedures that focus on keeping drivers safe on site and on the road, the transport industry will be able to provide goods to South Africa in a safer way.