Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
As notable fleets like Toll and Linfox prepare to push legislation through supporting GPS as a mandatory tool for curbing fatigue related accidents, world leading Australian fatigue monitoring technology company, OPTALERT Pty Ltd, calls the move dangerously misguided.

National Transport Commission’s (NTC’s) recent discussion paper, Improving the Basic Fatigue Management Option, has received criticism from a company whose underlying technology was invented by the word authority on sleep medicine, Dr Murray Johns.

OPTALERT Pty Ltd Chief Executive Office, John Prendergast - Australia’s foremost thought leader on the topic of Behaviour Based Safety (BBS) and its effects on Chain of Responsibility and fatigue management, says that although he fully supports NTC’s desire to decrease fatigue related accidents in the transport industry; the current approach is fundamentally flawed.

“Our sole purpose for existing as a company is to eliminate fatigue accidents,” said Mr Prendergast. “This is a sustainable goal being achieved by forward thinking fleets, mining operators, long haul bus and 4x4 drivers using OPTALERT alertness monitoring technology.”

“While we applaud fleets such as Toll and Linfox for wishing to actively implement a system that will act as an anti-fatigue device, we believe that GPS is not the correct technology with which to achieve this goal.

“GPS is an undeniably useful technology for managing on time deliveries and informing fleet management on the whereabouts of its drivers and machinery. From a return on investment perspective, we agree a fleet could not be profitable without it. But to suggest that GPS can make the highway safer by preventing fatigue is quite misguided.”

Mr Prendergast says his main concern with the proposed move is that it does not take into consideration the nature of driver fatigue, which he says cannot be calculated or averaged out using GPS. Moreover, he says it makes the assumption that drivers are always fit for work when they start their shift and fails to consider influencing factors outside of the workplace. He sights looking after a sick child late into the night, marital issues, or even a big night out with friends as just some of the very real reasons for tiredness behind the wheel – well before a journey has even begun.

“We’ve seen drivers close to a fatigue related accident after only 30 minutes on the road – nowhere near the proposed 9-hour GPS guide that is being discussed as the ‘cut off point’ by those pushing for mandatory use of telematic technology (GPS). In fact, we have statistics that show the majority of incidents occur within 45 minutes of leaving the depot.

“Truck driving is a unique profession with some inherently unique risks,” he adds. “Drivers must be attentive and alert at all times – there is no opportunity for error. That challenge, combined with the fact that the driver is highly likely to be working shifts and have a whole pile of out of work stresses, makes fatigue a very human condition.

“The only way to accurately measure the alertness of a driver during his journey is to monitor him in real time,” stresses Mr Prendergast. “This cannot be done through GPS, which uses pre-determined calculations to guess fatigue levels.”

A human approach is being rallied by OPTALERT Pty Ltd. The company says that although the transport industry may be used to adding gauges in trucks that report how far the machine can go, OPTALERT say it is the only device in the world that reports how far the person can go.

“Both the person and the machine need to be looked at in unison to fight fatigue related accidents,” Mr Prendergast adds,” what we are saying is that both cannot be monitored by the same technology. In essence, the person is different to the machine.”

OPTALERT say they are the only scientifically proven, real-time system in the world that detects the early onset of driver drowsiness by accurately measuring a driver’s physiological alertness.

The system works through tiny invisible light emitters and receivers that are built into the frame of the patented OPTALERT Glasses, worn by drivers to measure the velocity of the eyelid 500 times per second. The glasses are paired with an in-cab Dashboard Indicator upon which the driver can see at a glance, in large easy to read numbers, their drowsiness level displayed as a score from zero to ten. The system gives drivers a visible score of impairment that can be correlated to a blood alcohol level, with a reading of 5.0 on the OPTALERT scale similar to a blood alcohol reading of .05 in terms of level of impairment.

Providing another level of safety and reassurance, the OPTALERT Drowsiness Score can also be made remotely visible via mobile Internet to management. Up-to-date reports are then sent to the control room, while the driver is empowered in real time to make a safe driving decision when the warning sounds (up to half an hour prior to dangerous levels of fatigue setting in) well before the driver even notices signs of tiredness.

“When a person’s workspace is the public highway, where ordinary men, women and children drive, workplace risk has a whole new meaning and the need to incorporate a Behaviour Based Safety approach to OH&S and WorkSafe protocol become highly important,” said Mr Prendergast.

“What we need to remember is that it is essentially the behaviour of the individual that is the cause of a fatigue accident. Therefore if you change behaviour you will achieve an overall higher level of safety profile.

“OPTALERT is not a passive technology on a machine, it is an active technology on a person and thus it influences behaviour in real time. Time and time again we see customers achieving an overall reduction in the instance of accidents and near misses as result of our technology simply because it engages the driver as a device with the sole purpose to protecting the user, not the machine. This critical distinction has an overall ripple effect over that person’s conscious approach to safety,” he concluded.

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The OPTALERT range of Fatigue Monitoring technologies is the only independent scientifically validated, real-time system in the world that detects the early onset of drowsiness during a journey by accurately measuring a driver’s level of alertness. The underlying technology was invented by OPTALERT Chief Scientist, Dr Murray Johns, in 1994, creating a business in 2004 and launching a product in 2007.  Dr John’s is a world authority on sleep medicine and has pioneered research in this field for more than 30 years including the development of the world standard Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
John Prendergast, Chief Executive Officer, OPTALERT Pty Ltd
P: 03 9425 5000
W: www.optalert.com/


road transport, driver fatigue, truck drivers, OH&S, NTC, Optalert, Toll, Linfox, mining, driver safety



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