Electronic work diaries

This week the national ‘industry reference group’ for Electronic Work Diaries is meeting to consider progress with the current trials, and the move to a much larger pilot from 2012 onwards.

The current work was announced by the new NSW Minister, Duncan Gay, on 25 July 2011 and comprehensive background information is here. The plan is for EWDs to become available for voluntary use, as an alternative to paper work diaries, but that doesn’t mean that it would be smart to just ignore these reforms.

The ALRTA is taking this agenda very seriously: two members of our national Executive, Andrew Koschel and Liz Schmidt, are participating on this reference group and I’m giving them a fair amount of backup.

The key messages so far have been very simple: (1) you cannot introduce a powerful new technology without also making major changes to how the law works and how it is enforced; (2) therefore, before these pilots are finished, we’ll want to see commitments from Ministers to change the law so that Australia unlocks the real potential of technology to manage fatigue; (3) we’re not interested in using technology simply to get more efficient at ‘catching drivers’.

Andrew and Liz have been taking this so seriously that they asked me to prepare a few notes to capture what they said during a recent meeting with a consultant working on this project.

Those notes on the points raised are below. Are these points getting it right? We’d welcome your feedback.

Flexibility in the fatigue management law.

  1. Before many of our people will be comfortable with EWDs, we will need a law that allows for genuine fatigue management, rather than forcing absolutely rigid adherence to things like short rest break interval.
  2. Right or wrong, many drivers naturally make some ‘corrections and adjustments’ when they make entries in their paper work diary. That happens everywhere, certainly not just in rural Australia. Before we can use a technology that will uncompromisingly ‘tell the truth’, we will need a law that deals fairly with the truth of how drivers really manage their fatigue – everywhere, but especially in rural and regional areas.
  3. This means we want to see the flexible fatigue management scheme for rural Australia that we were promised under AFM by Mr Deegan. We know that the NHVR has recently been given permission to finally deliver this and we are working on it with them now.

Move away from on-road inspection.

  1. The role of on-road inspection for a driver using an EWD should be limited to just ‘scanning the vehicle’ to check that the device is working correctly.
  2. Drivers should not be held up for ages at the roadside while an officer downloads their data or fiddles around with a printer.
  3. The focus should be on periodic audit, which should be able to be done over the internet. And because the focus is on audit that means the solutions to problems should be performance improvements, not fines!

Enforcement needs to change, and we’ll need this guaranteed (ideally, in the law).

  1. Lots of people talk about the risk of getting a fine for being ‘one minute over’ if you are using an EWD. They’re right, but that’s just beginning to scratch the surface.
  2. The reality of a paper work diary is that in most of Australia you only have a 1/100 chance of being pinged for a breach. You actually have to be intercepted, the officer has to know how to read the pages and count all the different time periods, and the officer has to count back far enough to find a problem. The adds up to a 1/100 chance.
  3. An EWD will be a computer. It will ‘see’ everything. It will capture everything and do all the maths in a flash. It will reveal every single thing you did that is officially ‘wrong’. That might be a lot of ‘one minute errors’ but it’s also likely to show that, in any month, there are lots of times when you’re half an hour out on a daily or weekly total.
  4. If drivers get a fine for all their errors and all their little ‘coping arrangements’, they could be wiped out. We will need a legislated guarantee that drivers using this technology will have entitlements to receive lots of warnings, cautions, instructions to improve etc before there’s even a hint of fines being used.
  5. And maybe the focus should be on the boss first, rather than the driver.
  6. Queensland has already shown the way on this. The approach Queensland Transport took to speed monitoring of heavy vehicles just involved a letter to the boss. The regulator in Qld basically tells the boss “we can see your drivers, we know you can see your drivers, so why don’t you do every one a favour and fix this problem ?”

Move to a truly responsible, respectful form of “shared-regulation”

  1. EWDs should be a trigger to completely change the culture of how we manage fatigue. Not so much in industry – IN GOVERNMENT!
  2. Instead of needing to ‘punish’ industry all the time, governments should have an honest discussion with each operator about their actual performance.  ‘Punishment’ could be limited to people who won’t play the game.
  3. Queensland has already shown that this works for speed management.
  4. And this is also how WA already manages fatigue. Their fatigue management scheme makes no use of on-road enforcement by Police. It is all based on auditing operator records – it’s the boss who is held accountable.
  5. Instead of just using ‘enforcement’, government could work with us to ‘manage performance’. If government is willing to change its whole attitude and approach, this technology really could improve safety. We could all talk about the truth of what happens.
  6. Government will need to be very, very strong in its message to industry. There is so much distrust built up by the ‘enforcement culture’ that there will be huge doubt and even cynicism about government’s commitment, motivation and capacity to actually learn to work with us in such a new way.
  7. Maybe anyone who uses an EWD should be automatically enrolled in a special accreditation scheme, which should give them legal guarantees about the way that government will work with them.

Appropriateness of the technology

  1. Requiring in-vehicle printers is totally wrong. They will break in the bush. It shifts costs onto industry. It is more expensive in total than putting printers into enforcement vehicles. Above all, it means you are committed to all the old enforcement approaches which is completely wrong (why else would you need paper ‘at the roadside’ except to write a ticket?).
  2. Requiring GPS as part of an EWD is something we’d look at. It needs to be part of a commitment to change the law and culture of fatigue management and shift the strategy away from enforcement and onto performance management. If government is committed to that, then GPS will just increase the ‘truthfulness’ of the information and the ability to assess and manage real performance.
  3. But: if government still just wants to play the ‘enforcement’ game, then GPS should not be part of an EWD.

Around industry, very few people seem to be aware of the Pilot that was announced by Minister Gay. This issue is a bit of a sleeper but, like all these reforms, the time to have a real influence is early – when the designs are in pencil, not ink. We’d welcome your feedback.

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