EDITORIAL: The fatigue debate continues

By: Chris Smith

Last week’s editorial Asleep at the wheel? conjured up deep emotions from different parts of the transport industry. In response

Last week’s editorial Asleep at the wheel? conjured up deep emotions from different parts of the transport industry.

In response to the editorial and articles in ABC magazine, the National Transport Commission (NTC) sent through a "letter" this week, which will be printed in full in the December issue, explaining the background of the current fatigue regulations.

The letter argues that during the seven years it took to put the new fatigue regulations together there have been numerous workshops, forums, briefings, public consultations, media reports and adverts on the issue.

The result was three fatigue modules were developed to manage those diverse needs: Standard Hours, Basic Fatigue Management (BFM) and Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM).

The NTC say consultation was had with industry peak bodies to accommodate specific industry requirements as well. In this regard, the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) worked with the NTC to accommodate the unique needs of tour and charter operators.

The Commission believes for the majority of the bus and coach sector, the new laws require only minor changes to their schedules.

The NTC rightly says its job is done; it's developed what it perceives to be the best fatigue management tool to reduce carnage on the roads. And these are the minimum standards which need to be adhered to rather than the maximum.

What it doesn’t do is fit into existing work practices, because it is a new system.

Where the problems arise is the industry and different state jurisdictions obviously don’t see the new laws as only requiring minor changes to fit into their existing practices.

In a response to the letter from the NTC, BusNSW makes some valid points.

The reality is the ACT and Western Australia have completely opted out of the NTC scheme and Queensland and Tasmania have introduced their own variations to the package.

Queensland requires work diaries only over 200km of driving, and Tasmania requires them in all cases.

Other states, including South Australia, have introduced lengthy implementation periods.

Victoria has adopted the package, but is requiring operators to apply for BFM.

The point made in BusNSW's letter is this: wouldn’t it be better to actually have a pattern of hours that works for buses rather than the industry having to "opt out" of Standard Hours in favour of AFM or (as in Victoria) BFM?

AFM and BFM give operators the flexibility they require to tailor the laws to their specific purposes.

Where to now? Either the Federal Government overrides the state and territory governments in regards to the new laws or, in the timeframe provided, different associations and governments change their work practices to fit in with what the NTC has created.

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