Research

World first heavy vehicle driver fatigue research 
The National Transport Commission (NTC) and the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC) this week released the results of a world-first study into heavy vehicle driver fatigue.

The two-year  study evaluated alertness monitoring technology and the impacts of work shifts on driver alertness, analysing shift start time, the number of consecutive shifts, shift length, shift rotation, rest breaks and their likely impact on driver drowsiness and fatigue.

Spokesperson and Theme Leader for the Alertness CRC Associate Professor Mark Howard said the research involved a study of more than 300 heavy vehicle driver shifts both in-vehicle and in a laboratory, as well as 150,000 samples of retrospective data. 'We found that slow eye and eyelid movements, longer blink duration and prolonged eye closure are reliable predictors of drowsiness and fatigue', Associate Professor Howard said.

The study also confirmed the scientific link between alertness and drowsiness patterns associated with specific work shifts for heavy vehicle driving.

NTC Chief Executive Officer Dr Gillian Miles said these findings will inform future fatigue policy as part of the NTC-led review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

Key research findings:

Greatest alertness levels can be achieved under current standard driving hours for shifts starting between 6am – 8am, including all rest breaks. Greatest risk of an increase in drowsiness occurs:

  • After 15 hours of day driving when a driver starts a shift before 9am).
  • After 6 - 8 hours of night driving (when a driver starts a shift in the afternoon or evening).
  • After five consecutive shifts when driving again for over 13 hours.
  • When driving an early shift that starts after midnight and before 6am.
  • During the first 1-2 night shifts a driver undertakes and during long night shift sequences.
  • When a driver undertakes a backward shift rotation (from an evening, back to afternoon, or an afternoon back to a morning start).
  • After long shift sequences of more than seven shifts.
  • During nose-to-tail shifts where a seven-hour break only enables five hours of sleep – a duration previously associated with a three-fold increased risk for motor vehicle accidents.

The summary report [pdf] and an infographic of the key research findings are available on the NTC website. Source: NTC media release

Welders at higher risk of cancer 
A major literature review has found welders are at a 43 per cent increased risk of lung cancer. Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and other research bodies say that worldwide, 110 million workers are exposed to welding fumes, which were re-evaluated from possibly carcinogenic to definitely carcinogenic to humans by the IARC in 2017.

They reviewed 45 studies, representing 16,485,328 workers, and found welders showed an average 43 per cent increased risk of lung cancer compared to workers who were never welders or exposed to welding fumes.

"Welders are exposed to a complex mixture of chemical compounds that might vary by the type of welding method used (eg. gas, arc), the type of metal being welded (mild or stainless steel) and the occupational setting where welding is performed," the researchers say.  However they found exposure to welding fumes increased lung cancer risk regardless of the type of steel being welded or the welding method, and independently of asbestos exposure or tobacco smoking. But the risk increased with the length of employment as a welder.  
Read more: Manoj Kumar Honaryar, et al, Welding fumes and lung cancer: a meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. [Abstract] Occupational and Environmental Medicine, April 2019, doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105447. Source: OHS Alert

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