Driver fatigue identified as a top health and safety risk for trucking operations in Ontario
In November 2019, 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 that met for two days to determine the root causes of driver fatigue in Ontario’s trucking sector.
The list of the top 10 causes of driver fatigue, as identified by workers, supervisors, and employers in Ontario’s trucking sector, ranks the factors according to the likelihood of them contributing 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.
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 drivers in Ontario.
Identify solutions and controls
After identifying the top 10 causal factors of driver fatigue, the industry representatives 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:
- Classify truck driving as a skilled trade (Red Seal)
- Review and address critical training gaps in mandatory entry-level training (MELT)
- Make graduated licensing for all truck drivers mandatory
- Increase enforcement of non-compliant carriers
- Promote mental health and wellness among professional truck drivers.
These recommendations provide a foundation for reducing driver fatigue by focusing on systemic causal factors and not just the symptoms of driver fatigue.
The trucking industry should focus immediately on addressing these five key recommendations.
Designate 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. It would benefit companies, drivers, and all road users if the profession was 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.
Address 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 that quality truck drivers emerge from the entry-level training programs.
Enact greater 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.
Improve 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 are just some of the factors that can affect their mental health. If not addressed, these factors can lead to depression, anxiety, and addiction. 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 help workplaces strengthen their road safety plans. These resources, which include driver fatigue tip sheets for employers and workers, assist in communicating the hazards of driver fatigue and other hazards on the road and support the recommendations of the driver fatigue root cause analysis.
IHSA urges stakeholders in the trucking industry to visit ihsa.ca/driverfatigue to learn more about the industry-identified root causes and recommended solutions that address driver fatigue in the workplace.