Health and safety

How a ship safety policy could have a detrimental effect on road safety

6 August 2019

After reading a Telegraph article on the safety of truck drivers onboard ro-ro ferries, Nautilus member PAUL GAWNE points out a problem

It was with great disappointment that I read the article 'Nautilus backs MAIB warning to truck drivers' in the May edition of the Nautilus Telegraph.

The article described the situation where some truck drivers remain in the sleeping quarters of their trucks on the car decks of ferries during the crossing, in contravention of the ferry company’s safety policy.

Firstly, I would like to clearly state that I absolutely agree that truck drivers should not be allowed to remain in their trucks on the car deck while the ferry is at sea. However, is it really any wonder that some of them feel compelled to do so?

Truck drivers are subject to rules restricting the number of hours they can continuously drive and the total hours in a day they can drive and yet they are expected to deliver their cargo in the minimum possible time. This means that during the hours they are permitted to drive, they must drive, and when they reach their driving limit, they're tired and they need to get some sleep.

When a truck drives onto a ferry, it stops driving. This then is an enforced rest period, so the driver needs to get some sleep. This is where the problem starts. The driver is not allowed to remain in his cab on the car deck and so can't sleep there and, on most modern ro-ro ferries, the passenger accommodation is limited to upright seating only, its noisy and full of distractions so there is nowhere for them to sleep on the ferry either.

The ferry then arrives at the destination and the driver must return to the truck and, because they have had a 'rest' they must drive, now fatigued as they have not been able to sleep. If they pull over to sleep, they risk missing their delivery target. If they keep driving, they risk falling asleep at the wheel and causing a terrible road accident.

When faced with the choice between the very real risk of driving when fatigued and/or facing financial or work penalty on the one hand or violating the ferry rules and catching up with some much-needed sleep on the other, it should come as no surprise that they choose the latter.

I am astonished that ferry companies can be so short-sighted and blinkered to suggest threatening the drivers with further enforcement when they are already stuck between a rock and a hard place and their behaviour is only a symptom of a wider problem that affects the whole supply chain.

Yes, ferry companies and the MAIB should work with the Road Haulage Association, but not to enforce an unworkable rule, rather to work towards a real and mutual solution to the root cause of driver fatigue. To just kick them off the car deck is to simply kick the problem, and the danger, quite literally, down the road.


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