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Is Driver Fatigue Common in Your Warehouse?

Driver fatigue can result to fatal accidents and serious productivity losses. It could be the result of working long hours and busy operations. But more importantly, driver fatigue might be caused by risks and hazards in the workplace (especially recently and in the coming years when warehouses and other businesses with logistics functions will get busier because of better transport links to and from Hurstville and the upcoming completion of Western Sydney Airport).

This might be happening in some warehouses with poorly designed work areas. For instance, there might be no separation between the vehicles and pedestrians. Lack of temporary physical barriers may sooner or later cause accidents. This kind of environment is also mentally taxing for the forklift drivers. They have to be alert of the pedestrians at all times which makes the drivers experience a higher level of exhaustion.

The employer’s legal obligation

The employer has a legal obligation to:

  1. Identify hazards in the workplace (examples are noise, vibration, slippery surface, working at heights)
  2. Assess the risk those hazards create (e.g. risk of tripping, falling)
  3. Then eliminate or minimise them as much as possible (e.g. reducing the levels of noise and vibration)

This goes beyond ensuring the pedestrians and forklift drivers are safe. It’s also about minimising operational disruptions and productivity losses. After all, a single accident (e.g. collision between two forklifts) can halt an entire warehouse operation and cause delivery delays. We have to attend to the injured forklift drivers, make sure the incident won’t cause worse outcomes and inspect the equipment (and perform the necessary repairs or parts replacement).

For instance, a high-noise work environment (especially in manufacturing facilities and busy warehouses) might be masking important alerts and warnings. The driver might not be hearing a co-worker issuing a warning or the unusual noise from the forklift is becoming unnoticed. This might then result to a collision, costly delays and injuries and fatalities.

The first step in eliminating or minimising these incidences is raising awareness and identifying the workplace hazards. Here are some ways to accomplish that:

  • Consult with workers (e.g. the ones in the frontlines and actually operating the equipment) about safety, hazards and risk control
  • Formulate and implement systems for safety and risk management processes (these should also be regularly reviewed because new hazards might have been introduced)
  • Maintain the workplace, equipment and other facilities in a safe condition (e.g. forklifts should undergo routine maintenance for smooth operations)
  • Provide appropriate and relevant training (e.g. maintaining safety in the workplace, proper operation of forklifts)
  • Implement procedures for those who work in remote or isolated worksites
  • Ensure first aid equipment are easily accessible and emergency plans should be in place

These are all important in preventing or minimising driver fatigue. Dealing with hazards every day can be very exhausting especially in busy warehouses. Taking a break (and implementing excellent work and rest limits) helps a lot but it’s not enough. We have to deal with the root causes so as to ensure we have a safe workplace.

Signs of driver fatigue

Having a safe workplace is difficult to achieve if fatigue is rampant especially in warehouses and other workplaces with lots of interaction and movement. To better recognise driver fatigue, here are some signs you should watch out for (or concerns you hear from your drivers):

  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of alertness
  • Making more mistakes than usual (e.g. getting clumsy or awkward in a task that’s been done a hundred times)
  • Blurred vision
  • Actually falling asleep (“micro-sleep”) while driving a forklift

These result to near misses and incidents (which sooner or later results to an actual collision). Taking no significant action may eventually lead to worse outcomes. The common and instinctive response is to add more rules to prevent such incidents but this may not be a practical approach for improving workplace safety.

Better workplace design instead of memos

Memos are good for occasional changes. However, too many can also be mentally taxing. Drivers and other personnel might not be able to keep up (and also the risk of someone not getting or understanding the memo). Also, issuing a memo might just be a temporary solution.

The better approach is to provide a more permanent solution. This is also about raising awareness and identifying the hazards but in addition, we’re actually implementing something that’s intuitive and doesn’t require much mental resources from drivers and other personnel.

In fact, the goal is to minimise the use of mental resources on mundane things (such as everyday avoiding trips, falls and collisions or manoeuvring in crowded areas). Instead the mental resources should be devoted on the actual work itself. This way, workers can focus on more important things and free up their minds to contribute more to the organisation.

One way to accomplish this is by considering the layout and condition of the workplace. If it’s intelligently designed, the work becomes smooth and accidents will be minimised. This also frees up the minds of drivers and gives them better opportunities to focus on their driving.

For instance, just improving the visibility in the work area (better lighting especially in dark corners and aisles) can result to better safety and focus. In this kind of work environment drivers can also find it easier to manoeuvre. It’s a simple change but actually a lot more effective than issuing a memo about “you should be more careful when driving in these areas with poor lighting.”

When it comes to the layout of the workplace, instead of observing caution when driving through the blind spots, the better approach is to get rid of those blind spots in the first place. This way, drivers can always see what’s ahead and focus their attention in getting the job done. This then results to better productivity and efficiency in the workplace.

Also earlier we mentioned something about the separation between the vehicles and pedestrians. If there’s no separation or boundary (whether it’s a temporary or permanent physical barrier), accidents will sooner or later happen. The lack of separation or boundary also results to lower productivity because drivers need to be wary of pedestrians crossing the aisles anytime of the day. Drivers need to slow down during those scenarios and this is another thing that consumes their mental resources and focus.

The solution to this is to dedicate pedestrian walkways or use temporary physical barriers. The goal is to limit interaction between the pedestrians and vehicles. This way getting hit by a forklift won’t be much of a concern if the scenarios leading to that are absent in the first place.

It’s also an excellent practice to designate specific and dedicated areas such as:

  • Forklift parking areas
  • Low-speed areas
  • Pedestrian exclusion zones
  • Traffic flow with clear marking signs

Clear warning signs and effective systems

Clear reminders about traffic management hazards are also useful in maintaining and improving workplace safety. This also good when new drivers and personnel are still getting used to the work area.

But in time those reminders and warning signs might lose their effectiveness. Also, too many warning signs might lead to confusion and clutter in the workplace. The reminders and signs should still be present but they might not suffice in achieving our safety goals.

As a result, many operations managers and safety officers choose to install additional safety systems and devices in the work area. These systems might include the following:

  • Overhead mirrors (e.g. getting a better view of movement around the vehicle)
  • Sensors and alarms (e.g. when a pedestrian or vehicle is near or approaching)
  • Visual warning devices (flashing lights when approaching a low-speed area, a populated zone or a specifically hazardous site)

For instance here at ShockWatch we’ve already installed effective systems and technologies (alert systems and warning devices) that help improve workplace safety and reduce driver fatigue. Some of the solutions we have installed for small businesses and huge corporations are:

  • Pedestrian Alert System
  • Collision Avoidance System
  • Blind Spots Solution
  • Narrow Aisle Safety Solution
  • Low Speed Area System (specifically designed to reduce the speed of the forklift in areas where pedestrians or people are working)
  • Hazardous Areas Solution (e.g. prevent occupational hazards in areas where there are conveyor belts)

We understand the requirements of busy warehouses of both small businesses and multinational corporations. We can help you design and choose a system that best works for your workplace and operations.

You can enquire today to better explore ways on how to improve workplace safety and help reduce driver fatigue. Our focus here in ShockWatch for more than 40 years has always been on safety and helping organisations achieve better productivity through modern fleet management and accident prevention solutions in storage, distribution and manufacturing facilities.