From E-Scooters to B-Doubles - Driving as a Safety Critical Role
“Driving? It’s pretty easy Doc…”
Until the driver has a sudden loss of consciousness, with a fully loaded truck, driving past a school.
So, what are the odds, and who should be assessing people's fitness to drive?
The standards applied to commercial drivers versus those applied to drivers of private vehicles are more stringent. This is due to the heightened risks. Reconsider the formula for risk = likelihood x consequence. Whilst likelihood may be similar across the two kinds of drivers, consequences - as outlined above – may be significant.
The Austroads Assessing Fitness To Drive Guidelines (AFTD) (https://austroads.com.au/drivers-and-vehicles/assessing-fitness-to-drive) are the standards we use to assess fitness for drivers of commercial vehicles. These guidelines cover drivers of vehicles most people would readily consider ‘commercial’ such as large trucks and buses, and also the less obvious – drivers of emergency services vehicles.
Interestingly, driving large trucks on mine sites falls outside the direct scope of the AFTD guide as this activity occurs on private land, but the medical evidence upon which the guidelines are based remain relevant.
These guidelines are readily available online, so why is assessing driving fitness a specialist medical role?
Choosing a Specialist to Assist
Assessing fitness to drive in a worker for whom you have concerns, or a worker post-incident is a specialist task. An Occupational and Environmental Physician (OEP) has specific training in assessment in the context of the workplace. Find an OEP who is happy to speak with you about your specific concerns.
Independence is also key. Referring to an independent Occupational and Environmental Physician means the assessment of an individual will involve impartial application of the medical evidence. This independence is crucial when making decisions which may end a driver’s career. A person’s treating General Practitioner is likely to be in the position of having a long-standing relationship with worker and their family.
'...independence is crucial when making decisions which may end a driver’s career.'
Fit to Drive or Fit For Duty?
Once a person is considered medically Fit to Drive, this doesn’t automatically equate with Fitness for Duty to perform the entire job. A number of other factors come into play, including whether the person can enter/exit the vehicle; if they have to drive a number of specific vehicle types; and whether they must load and unload the vehicle. When a person is medically cleared to drive, organisations cannot assume this clearance applies to all the essential and inherent requirements of the role.
The Role of New Technology?
Increasingly we are seeing companies using ‘smart’ monitoring systems reporting on fatigue indicators and episodes – such as harsh breaking and acceleration. If organisations choose to implement these kinds of systems, a management plan for what businesses will do with this information is essential.
There’s a saying in medicine, ‘Don’t take a temperature if you’re not prepared to treat a fever’, and the same applies here. Currently there just isn’t well designed scientific and medical research on these systems. Certainly a space to watch in the future.
What Can Managers and Organisations Do?
Share your concerns and plans with the worker. Having the conversation requires trust, and good communication.
- Access experienced specialist assistance
Assessing fitness to drive in a worker for whom you have concerns, or a worker post incident is a specialist task. An Occupational and Environmental Physician (OEP) has specific training in assessment in the context of the workplace. Find an OEP who is happy to speak with you about your specific concerns.
- Anticipate and manage future risk
As the ages of our working population rise, so too do the risks of health conditions. Designing appropriate health assessment process to monitor the health of drivers is another area where an Occupational and Environmental Physician can assist your risk management.
'Until we know what is going on with your health condition, I need to protect you and the people around you’
For more information on assessing fitness to drive please contact LIME Medicolegal on 1300 333 767.