Long working hours and a lack of adequate toilet facilities are putting truck drivers’ lives in danger, according to new research by trade union Unite.
In addition, the union warns that the true scale of deaths on the road is not being properly investigated due to legal loopholes.
Unite’s confidential survey of more than 4,000 HGV drivers found that 29% have fallen asleep at the wheel and that tiredness and fatigue at work was in 64.4% of cases blamed on disturbed sleep or blamed on a series of long days (62.9%).
Drivers also reported that they were most likely to be feeling either still drowsy, tired, sleepy or exhausted if they had slept in their vehicles at the side of the road (65% of cases), in a layby (67%) or in a service station car park (62%).
Drivers report that employers are increasingly seeking to maximise their work and minimise their rest. Legally drivers can work a 15-hour day, including 10 hours of driving and have nine hours of rest, before starting work again. This can occur for two consecutive days and Unite’s HGV drivers report they are left exhausted after such excessive shifts.
In addition, a freedom of information request by Unite has found that in the past five years 109 drivers or passengers of HGVs have been killed in road traffic accidents. But these are not recorded as workplace deaths and therefore the underlying and longer-term factors that could have contributed to the fatal accident are unlikely to be properly investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, as they do not have the responsibility to deal with these fatalities.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “The findings of this survey are profoundly shocking; People’s lives are being put at risk due to a lack of welfare facilities and workers being forced to work excessive hours.
“It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if drivers are regularly sleeping in their cabs tiredness will become a major hazard. Yet virtually nothing is being done to tackle this problem.
“The government must take the lead and require all local authorities to provide truck stops to meet local requirements. The authorities can’t be allowed to continue to pretend it is someone else’s problem.
“Companies are continually forcing drivers to work longer, as they are obsessed with the just in time delivery model. This can inevitably lead to tragic consequences, driver welfare should be a company’s first priority not just an afterthought.
“It is entirely wrong that if a driver is tragically killed at work it is not recorded as a workplace death. At best it is a massaging of the fatality figures.
“In reality it is a complete derogation of responsibility as by not allowing the HSE to investigate these tragic accidents the long-term causes are not being properly investigated and the necessary safety improvements are not being made.”