Safety expert Siphiwe Baleka says monitoring fatigue can help end trucking’s health crisis

As a world-class swimmer, US-record holder Siphiwe Baleka knows how important sleep is to human performance. As a transportation expert, however, this Yale University graduate also knows that sleep is often an afterthought for drivers rushing to meet the demanding deadlines of the trucking industry. While the consequences associated with those demands are proving to be far more costly and tragic than winning or losing a swim race, Baleka thinks the road to more successful outcomes is similar.

“Every driver, if they are being honest, is going to tell you that on a daily or nightly basis, they are going to fight fatigue,” says Baleka, “When you are serious about it and you legitimately want to make safer highways, genuinely and credibly, you have to talk about sleep first.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year in the United States. This results in approximately 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Staying awake for 21 hours causes fatigue equal to a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08

Staying awake for 21 hours causes fatigue equal to a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08.

Drivers’ life expectancy is a shocking 15 years lower than the national average, according to Baleka. As such, he’s spent the better part of the last four years looking for ways to usher in change to the trucking industry, specifically the health and safety of drivers. At the root of that poor health, says Baleka, is fatigue.

“For me if I want to solve a problem I want to get to the root of the problem,” says Baleka, now the owner of Fitness Trucking and Driver Health and Fitness Coach at Prime Inc., a Missouri trucking company with 6,700 drivers. “So what’s happening to drivers is, they’re living in a box, they’re sedentary, their sleep is interrupted, which is impacting their circadian rhythms, which is impacting hormone production. So what they experience is an energy deficit, or fatigue.”

Fatigue causes more accidents than drugs and alcohol combined. Research reveals that going 21 hours without sleep is equivalent to a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of .08, above the legal limit for safe driving. Yet measuring fatigue is not even on the radar for many driver health and safety programs, something that needs to change, according to Baleka.

Siphiwe Baleka is a US-Masters Swimming Champion and a US-record holder in the 50M freestyle.  

Siphiwe Baleka is a US-Masters Swimming Champion and a US-record holder in the 50M freestyle.

As Baleka started to experience a surprising decline in his own physical health, a light bulb went on: What if he applied the techniques he’d used as a high performance swimmer to truck driving? Companies measure and monitor tire pressure, fuel consumption etc., and often keep rankings, displaying which drivers are doing the best job of what. Baleka says his competitive spirit always drove him to try to be at the top of the chart no matter what was being measured both in the pool and at work. Eventually he determined that a crossover with his background in high-performance sport offered very real opportunities for solving driver health and safety issues. Most importantly, it could help ensure long-haul truck drivers get where they needed to go, safely.

“I started to treat driving as an athletic performance, trying to figure out how I become a better driver,” says Baleka. “How can I be more elite? Just like I wanted to be the best swimmer or best athlete, I wanted to figure out how I could be the best driver. And I started trying all of these things to try and improve my health in this unique environment of long haul truck driving.”

Siphiwe Baleka featured in Sports Illustrated.

Siphiwe Baleka featured in Sports Illustrated.

While diving in deeper and deeper into his search for solutions to the health issues facing the trucking industry, Baleka tested every fitness program and product he could get his hands on, including a flood of new wearable tracking devices. From that deep dive he developed what would eventually become an award-winning health program designed specifically for truckers. A big part of the solution, he discovered, lays with effectively monitoring fatigue.

“We have real time data on the truck, what it’s doing, it’s brakes, fuel economy etc. We have real-time data on the trailer. The only thing we didn’t have real-time data on is on the driver, which is the most important part of the equation! So I was trying to find a way to combine all of these devices and measure fatigue. That was my Holy Grail because that’s the major factor in so many accidents. You want safer highways you want to do something about driver fatigue.”

While he tested the value of every type of technology he could find, Baleka found that many of the devices were hard to use, didn’t stand up under pressure, or didn’t offer credible data and practical solutions to real issues. This was particularly true when looking for accurate measurement of sleep and fatigue. That is, until he found his Holy Grail.

“I was thinking how amazing it would be if you could have something that could tell you your status for driving based on fatigue, not only so the driver could intervene on themselves but also in a way that could impact the entire industry.”

“For me, as a driver but also as an athlete that wants to perform, the Fatigue Science Readiband can be used in both. There are lots of devices out there that do sleep metrics, but the Readiband is more expansive, more in depth.”

By becoming aware of detailed elements of his sleep, including wake episodes, sleep latency, sleep efficiency and a real time mental effectiveness score, Baleka was motivated to perform better. In short order he went from averaging about 6 hours and 15 mins of sleep a night to about 7 hours and 20 mins of sleep a night.

“I was getting this extra hour and I was feeling better. As an athlete I am swimming faster and performing better. But as a driver, I am feeling less fatigued, I am getting through the shift not having to fight sleep as much.”

Fatigue Science allows fleet managers to see fatigue dangers across the entire workforce. Learn more about monitoring fatigue and reducing safety risks.

Fatigue Science allows fleet managers to see fatigue dangers across the entire workforce. Learn more about monitoring fatigue and reducing safety risks.

Baleka says that by monitoring fatigue, everybody in the industry, from carriers, to shippers and receivers, to drivers, stands to benefit. With healthy drivers, there are less accidents, with less accidents more freight is delivered, safety records go up and insurance costs down.

“We have this technology that can actually predict when you are going to be at high risk for an accident and as a driver you can intervene. But I see that there are ways that the whole industry can use a device like this as a game-changer and we can revolutionize the entire industry.”

“I don’t know who said it first, but if you can measure it, you can improve it,” says Baleka. “So let’s start measuring fatigue in real time so we can improve it.”

Learn more about measuring fatigue and improving driver health and safety.

Interested in learning more about data-driven fatigue management?

or download our free eBook on the Science of Sleep for industrial workforces

Wearable technology a game changer in transportation safety

transportation safety for trucks

“The fact that you and your workforce are aware that fatigue could be an issue means that drivers are less likely to come up with some excuse when they hit a ditch.”

— Dan De Palma, Arrow Transportation Systems.

Recently one of our clients, Dan De Palma, General Manager of Northern Operations at Arrow Transportation Systems, and our own CEO Sean Kerklaan took time to talk with Fleet Owner Magazine. Topics ranged from health and safety to sleep and wearable technology in the trucking industry.

From hours of service regulation to insurance costs for trucking companies, both Kerklaan and De Palma offer experienced insights into the rapidly changing field of transportation safety. Of particular interest is what De Palma shares as it relates to the 200+ Arrow drivers who’ve used Fatigue Science technology to date, including the discovery of some significant, previously unknown health issues:

“We….learned that on average ten to twenty percent of our drivers had some sort of sleeping disorder,” De Palma told Fleet Owner. “We took a lot of pride in that because it was a way to give back to our workforce and say, “Look, I think you need some help.”

Definitely worth a further look for those interested in reducing fatigue-related accidents in the workplace. Read the full story here.

October 2016 Update: Arrow Transportation Systems was one of our customers featured in the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s The National in-depth report on driver fatigue.

Interested in learning more about data-driven fatigue management?

or download our free eBook on the Science of Sleep for industrial workforces

Using technology to address driver fatigue in the railroad industry

As new details of the recent train derailment in New York emerge, questions about risk management in the railroad industry keep surfacing. We won’t know for certain what the cause or causes of this unfortunate accident were until the final investigative report is released but in the meantime, media is leaning towards driver fatigue as the cause of the train derailment and have started raising questions about the possible use of various technologies to prevent accidents and save lives.

One such piece of technology in question is known as ‘positive train control’ (PTC) and works by setting permissions to onboard computers authorizing the vehicle’s safe travel route – including distances, speeds, and location. The movement of the train is then monitored and the technology will shut down or slow a train that falls outsides it’s permitted travel parameters. In the case of this recent derailment, the train would have been halted before it was able to travel into a turn at such a high speed.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) believes this PTC technology will save lives but studies show that the cost to implement are as much at $9-12 billion over the next 20 years and involves the complications of upgrading 60,000 miles of track and 20,000 locomotives with new technologies.

Richard Blumenthal is one of several New York Senators recommending that trains be equipped with audio and visual recorders to prove fatigue as a factor in collisions and catch ‘behaviour patterns’ that could be prevented in the future. While the costs of implementing this technology are said to be ‘negligible’ compared to what this recent crash will cost, it is not a technology that can prevent future tragedies, like the Bronx train derailment, from occurring.

Fatigue Science Co-Founder, Pat Byrne, has over 30 years of experience in occupational health and safety and understands the costs of these incidences quite well: “Fatigue accidents are rare but when they happen are catastrophic and, on average, cost five times the amount of non-fatigue related accidents.” he says, “With the cost of this recent New York train accident estimated to come in at hundreds of millions of dollars, the railroad industry should take another heavy look at the timing and budgeting of implementing fatigue monitoring technologies. Though, none of these technologies in question actually address the problem in identifying why the drivers are starting their shifts in a fatigued state and mitigating that in the first place.”

It is unlikely that the investigation will reveal work scheduling as a fatiguing factor, since railroads are required by federal regulation to use Fatigue Science’s FAST (Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool)  to ensure they are providing workers the opportunity to get the sleep they need. If fatigue is determined to be a factor in this accident it is more likely that the driver was not able to sleep well enough or long enough, in spite of the sleep opportunity being provided to him. These circumstances are normally due to sleep disorders and/or lifestyle issues, requiring medical intervention and sleep hygiene training as part of an organizational fatigue risk management program. Unfortunately, at this time, railroads typically do little to support workers in dealing with these severe sleep and fatigue issues – and they won’t be remedied by installing a video monitoring device in the cab of a train.

Truck News: Can a high-tech wristband measure driver fatigue and predict crashes?

Julia Kuzeljevich writes:

Managing fatigue has always been an issue in the trucking industry, all the more so as the professional driver population ages.

According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey report, the average truck driver age is actually 46 years, four years older than that of the average worker at 41.5 years.

the industry, but are they enough to determine where the problem areas can and do occur?

In terms of getting aggregate data on how tired drivers are, some companies whose employees perform shift work are testing technology such as that developed by Vancouver, B.C.’s Fatigue Science, a technology start-up that makes a wristband to measure the sleep patterns of the user and to predict levels of fatigue and alertness during their waking hours…

Read the full article



Do you know how tired you are?

In a recent Psychology Today article, Mark Wolverton, suggests that when it comes to sleep deprivation, the gravest danger is “that we no longer realize just how tired we are”.

Mark has a point. Our own sleep and fatigue expert, Pat Byrne, often talks about the unfortunate realities of habitual sleep deprivation – pointing out that getting four to six hours of sleep a night may start to feel normal, but it doesn’t change the biological need to sleep eight. The accumulating deficit of sleep is evident in reaction and performance tests, even though participants might think they feel fine. Pat often sees professional athletes with whom he works confuse how they feel with how they perform. There is a difference.

In a society that would never consider getting behind the wheel of car after a few drinks, people are driving their cars with impaired levels of fatigue. In the US, fatigued driving is estimated to be responsible for 6,000 fatal road accidents annually. The problem is an international one – in the UK, it is estimated that 1 in every 5 road accidents is fatigue related. Southern Australia also reports  30% of fatal crashes and 15% of serious injury crashes are caused by fatigued drivers. The problem? Fatigue impairs not only our reaction time, but our “ability to judge our own level of tiredness”.

On a much less dangerous level, college and university students who stay up late to study are doing themselves an academic disservice. Multiple studies, including one from Harvard, have demonstrated that fatigue negatively affects the brain’s cortex – which is where information is stored. ‘Night owls’ and students who routinely deprive themselves of eight hours of sleep may think they are functioning well, but studies show that those who are staying up late to study or getting less than eight hours of sleep have lower GPA’s than those who sleep when and how biology dictates they should.

If you’re sitting down to tackle a thesis paper, researching for your next corporate presentation, driving home from work or heading out on a road trip, don’t think about how you’re currently feeling, think about how much sleep you’ve been getting lately. If it’s less than eight hours nightly for the last week, chances are it’s not enough to function at your most effective.

Finally, consider this: Drowsiness is actually the ‘brain’s last step before falling asleep‘, so waiting for the feeling of tiredness is both counter-productive and downright dangerous. Drinking a coffee or opening a window for fresh air may seem like a good way to battle the onset of fatigue, but research shows that if you close your laptop to get some shut eye, you’re likely to perform better and if you park your car and get some sleep, you may actually save a life.

Interested in learning more about data-driven fatigue management?

or download our free eBook on the Science of Sleep for industrial workforces

New research shows that limiting drivers hours won’t reduce driver fatigue

The new regulations

On July 1, 2013 new regulations for the North American trucking industry were introduced to reduce the problem of truck driver fatigue by limiting the work week to 70 hours from 82 hours, requiring longer rest periods after reaching the 70 hour maximum work period.

The assumptions behind these regulations are that the longer drivers are behind the wheel the greater their risk of having an accident and by giving drivers more time off they will get more rest.

Limiting drivers hours will not work to reduce driver fatigue

New research published in 2013 by the Australian National Truck Accident Research Centre (ANTARC) says neither assumption is correct.

ANTARC studied all 461 truck accidents from 2011 in Australia and concluded that 68% of all fatigue related incidents occurred within 250 km and 85% of the fatigue related incidents occurred within 500 km of the beginning of their journey, not the end.

ANTARC’s conclusion was that drivers were not getting the sleep they needed on their off days and came to work fatigued and unfit for duty.

Download a copy of the report

The answer to driver fatigue is scientifically validated data

Here at Fatigue Science we’re not surprised. Our Readibands have been used to examine the actual sleep and fatigue of workers in the trucking industry and many other industries globally for 4 years. During that time we have found that it’s common for truck drivers and workers from other industries to come to work tired – just take a look at our previous post on the recent incident at Vancouver International Airport with a fatigued worker.

In order to tackle the real fatigue problem in the trucking industry more assistance needs to be provided to drivers by tracking their actual sleep and fatigue at home and on the road.  Providing drivers with the scientifically valid data to educate and assist them to get the sleep they need to stay safe. Our Readiband technology can provide your drivers with real-time scientifically validated data to help reduce driver fatigue.