Transport for London this morning announced a range of measures to address fatigue among bus drivers, which has been reported as a factor in several incidents involving the capital’s buses. The transport authority has promised that “there will be a greater focus on the health and wellbeing of drivers”, and “we will foster a more open and honest culture across the industry”.
There is a need for urgent action by TfL, after it commissioned a report on the subject of driver fatigue and its independent researchers discovered that more than one-third of drivers had what they described as “a close call” when driving a bus because of their weariness.
The survey also found that one-fifth of London’s bus drivers say that they are suffering from tiredness when they are driving a bus.
Driver fatigue has been put forward as a factor in the Croydon tram crash, in which seven passengers were killed and 61 injured, 19 seriously, when a tram came off the rails at Sandilands in November 2016.
Tram drivers, working for operators First Group, have been said to endure “punishing” work schedules, often being expected to switch between late-night and early-morning working without rest days in between.
It seems likely that the research which has informed TfL’s approach to driver fatigue on London’s buses will also influence policy for tram drivers, too.
Certainly, very demanding work schedules for tram drivers and a culture of avoiding reporting issues have been matters that were raised even before the Sandilands crash.
TfL commissioned research by Loughborough University and the Swedish Road Institute, in response to work done by Unite the Union that highlighted some of the pressures being placed on some of their members who drive buses.
In a statement issued by TfL today, they committed to:
- Rigorous fatigue risk management systems will be required for any company to operate London buses under new contracts next year
- We will ensure that all managers in bus garages have undertaken fatigue training
- We will make £500,000 available to help operators undertake further work to establish the most effective interventions to reduce fatigue
- All driver rosters will be reviewed by operators against best practice to reduce the risk of fatigue
- With operators, we will ensure driver representatives are given the opportunity to be trained in fatigue
- There will be a greater focus on the health and wellbeing of drivers
- We will foster a more open and honest culture across the industry
The research findings, TfL said this morning, “will help us and the wider industry in our work to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on London’s roads”.
TfL said, in a statement issued at City Hall, “This study provides new information to help address the risk of collisions. Although the report authors have not suggested that there is a single solution, they did conclude that better partnership working between TfL, bus operators and bus drivers will deliver an even safer bus network.”
The study is the first in the world to assess drivers while they are driving in-service buses and to combine data with detailed sleep diaries.
It also included group discussions with drivers and discussions with managers.
Surveying the drivers made some shocking discoveries, including that 36 per cent of the drivers related that they had had “a close call”, just avoiding an incident, when feeling tired and driving their bus.
And 1 in 5 of those drivers reported having fatigue-related issues more than once a week while driving.
“With the evidence from this study, we will require bus operators to have fatigue risk management systems and more formal fatigue training for managers,” TfL said. “We’re also working with the bus operators and Unite to create a programme to gather ideas for how we can further respond to the report.”
The £500,000 fund will be open for applications from bus operators shortly.
“This fund is intended not just for trialling new technology but to come up with innovative solutions to change the safety culture within bus garages and increase the focus on driver health and wellbeing.”
TfL said, “The report highlights that drivers’ health and wellbeing is key and that adequate welfare facilities reduce stress, which in turn reduces the risk of fatigue.
“We will require operators to confirm that all drivers have access to suitable welfare facilities in all future contracts. This builds on our commitment to improve driver welfare, for example by ensuring that all routes have driver toilets available throughout operational hours. Additionally a ‘health bus’ will be launched in September, which will visit all bus garages to provide health and wellbeing advice and support for all bus staff.
“All operators will assess the risk of fatigue associated with their driver rosters by reviewing them against best practice, using automated systems. This will allow the whole industry to minimise fatigue at source rather than simply monitoring it.”
Given this statement regarding bus drivers, it seems impossible that TfL will not apply the same measures on fatigue to drivers on the tram network.
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