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How WHS can improve DIDO safety

Saturday, September 20, 2014.
When it comes to road safety for drive-in drive-out (DIDO) workers in the resources sector, OHS professionals can play a key role via education and challenging the accepted norms among the DIDO workforce, according to Central Queensland University.

“Via education, OHS professionals can provide some facts about the way in which sleepiness and fatigue affect performance and the strategies to minimise their influence,” said the dean of the School of Business & Law at Central Queensland University, Professor Lee Di Milia, an expert in OHS and DIDO workforces in Queensland.

“Knowledge alone does not help because employees are under pressure to get home and therefore, we need to look at other strategies.”

Speaking ahead of OSIT2014: the 2nd International Occupational Safety in Transport Conference, Di Milia said OHS practitioners can lobby their employer to provide more than administrative solutions and adopt engineering solutions to the problem. “Reducing the number of employees driving after night shift should be a common goal for all stakeholders,” he said.

The university has conducted two surveys to examine issues involving the DIDO workforce, and the most recent study in 2010 found that about 23 per cent of the population in Central Queensland comprises non-locals.

“Sleepy and tired drivers on roads have safety implications for the individual and broader community,” said Di Milia.

“At the hard end we could estimate there are several deaths a year in the Bowen Basin but proving the crash was due to falling asleep at the wheel is impossible to state with absolute precision. We cannot interview the deceased to ever really know.

“We can get a good insight into the crash by reviewing work history in the preceding week. It’s also the case that most people are genuinely unaware of having a micro sleep or falling asleep. We are good at recognising the symptoms of drowsy driving but we seldom act upon these trusting our ability to ‘push through’.

“If we take lane crossings as a precursor to an actual crash we get some estimate of the problem. An actual crash is in many ways a rare event and lane crossings have been related to crashes in a number of good studies.”

Driving after night shift was associated with an average commute of 211 kilometres and typically, this was after working four 12 hour night shifts, said Di Milia.

“The biggest predictor of lane crossing in our study was acute sleepiness. Those who reported ‘fighting sleep’ were 5.3 times more likely to cross a lane. Keep in mind we are talking about single lane highways so lane crossing hear means crossing the centre line or onto the shoulder,” he said.

“Driving more than 150 kilometres had a 3.6 times greater chance of lane crossing followed by sleeping less than 10 hours in the previous 48 hours (2.6 times), working night shift (2.2 times), snoring (2 times), being less than 43 years old (1.9 times) and using a mobile (1.9 times).”

The clear risk factors were acute sleepiness, driving long distances, little sleep and working night shift before driving.

“No real surprises, but many people ignore this. At the community level, sleepy drivers crash into other people. Estimating the size of this problem is not easy since few admit to falling asleep,” said Di Milia.

He said many companies provide their workforce with education, and this empowers workers to better understand the factors that affect their safety.

Some also insist on bussing employees to ensure employee safety, while Di Milia said there is a lot interest in employees developing a ‘journey plan’ that is approved by a manager.

“I have seen many of these plans and they range from being overly simplistic to several pages. The journey plans basically ask the employee to identify the risks involved in the commute and how the employee plans to mitigate the risk,” he said.

“It’s a very subjective exercise for both the employee and the manager. The real issue is whether anyone’s journey plan has been rejected and this data is not in the public domain.

“Journey plans could be useful. We know from goal setting theory that people strive to comply with their stated objectives. However we also know there are strong powerful psychological forces acting on a driver.

“First, not seeing your family is a powerful motivator to get home and this leads to underestimating the risk of getting home. Second, having completed similar journeys in the past is a powerful reinforcer that they can successfully do the same. Third, we each feel overly confident about our ability to drive despite how we actually feel.

“There is a lot of research showing our optimism to drive despite the objective evidence. Basically we discount all indicators because we think we will be alright.”

One solution that will have a major impact is to bus employees, according to Di Milia, who said decreasing the number of drowsy drivers reduces the exposure risk, but there is resistance to being bussed.

“Some employees want their right to drive. The issue is balancing individual rights and community safety, and sorting this political hot potato is not easy,” he said.

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