How much is too much work for drivers in UAE?
In the wake of a recent crash that killed 8 workers, the need for drivers to get proper rest is in focus.
Recently, a major road accident resulted in the death of eight people and seriously injured six other passengers after a van crashed into a truck along the Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Road in the direction towards Sharjah.
The accident was reported at 4.54am on Monday. One of the survivors said the driver must have fallen asleep. This sparks a lot of questions: Are drivers getting enough rest to stay focused on the road? Are employers pushing the drivers to overwork so that road safety is compromised? How much is too much of work? What are the safety procedures that should be put in place?
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of RoadSafetyUAE, said: "A lot of commentaries have been published about vans' and mini-buses' lack of stability, the lack of basic and advanced safety features, the high capacity (14 passengers) and load, the lack of emergency exits and so on. It goes without saying that we need swift reforms for the proper technical specifications of mini-buses or consider phasing them out altogether.
"But not so much has been talked about who is behind the wheels, what experience do they have, are they qualified to transport people and how have they been trained," he added. Critical to this subject, Edelmann underlined the importance of making sure that drivers are well rested before they go on the road. He noted that in Europe, commercial drivers follow maximum driving hours and take mandatory resting periods.
"There should be clear-cut policies to safeguard the wellbeing of the passengers and drivers. It is shocking to hear the reports of mini-bus drivers talking about their working conditions, shift times, the lack of policies and so on. With a sense of urgency, fleet operators and governmental entities should check what needs to be put in place," he noted.
Hard knocks life
Khaleej Times interviewed some drivers and they said it's a hard knocks life on the road.
Lack of sleep, pressure of remitting more money, unfriendly managers, monthly targets, demanding passengers, long hours on the road, health issues - all such factors roil inside their head and all of these can turn into a potent mix for disaster.
A Nepalese taxi driver who plies in Abu Dhabi said: "I've been driving taxi since 2006.
First few days into the job, I understood the hardship behind reaching our monthly targets in a 12-hour daily shift. Ever since, I have pushed hard daily to make Dh400 to Dh500. Even if I reach my target, I drive for more hours to pocket the extra commission. So, I spend tiresome hours on road checking out for more customers. I lose a lot of sleep or I have broken sleeps but I have to be here at least for another five years to repay loans."
The demand to earn enough money to ensure better life for the family back home makes drivers spend anywhere between 12 to 15 hours or more on the road. The extra hours spent on the road, drivers confess, make them prone to accidents.
"I want a better life for my children. I don't want them to be drivers like me. This is decent job but with a lot of struggle. Driving a mini-bus is difficult. I don't have any set target as I work for a company but there are lots of pick-up and drop of passengers. I am not pushed to spend long hours but work schedule demands I am on road all the time," shared M. Ali, a mini-bus driver from Pakistan. "I know the risks and I have had few close shaves with danger but, I guess, that's the life of any driver," he added.
Edelmann recommended a review of policies governing transport drivers. "There should also be plenty of on-road checks by the authorities to make sure only fit vehicles and able drivers are transporting passengers," he suggested.
"A stringent set of rules with regards to the proper type of driving licence must be put in place, coupled with a more rigid driving education as well as monitoring of driving behaviour. Re-certification and re-education/training should be in place on a mandatory level. Potential fines in between renewal/re-certification should trigger extra training for offending drivers or should result in non-extension of their license to carry passengers," Edelmann added.
Moreover, drivers must get enough rest to stay focused on the road and employers must not push the divers to overwork so that road safety is not compromised.
Doctor's recommendation: 'Eat less, take a nap, exercise'
Dr George John, emergency and cardiology department, Al Bustan Specialty Hospital Mussafah, said drivers should avoid heavy meal in the afternoon. He noted that most Asian drivers eat heavy oily lunch, rich in carbohydrates, which leads to tiredness and increase risk of accidents during afternoon hours.
Dr John recommended that drivers "should have a light meal and have small snacks in between. It will also be a good break for them. They should pull over for few minutes and take a nap in case they feel fatigued. Drivers can take a two-minute break to do neck and bending exercises. They can even do a quick eye exercise after a long drive.
All drivers need to be hydrated. They should have a sun shade or wear sun-protective glasses to avoid strain on eyes. All these are simple but effective steps to avoid health problems and accident situations."
Tristar Group, an integrated energy logistics services provider based in Dubai, has shared the following best practices to develop a culture of safety on the road.
Stop work card
Drivers are empowered to make decisions proactively in support of our safety culture. All employees are fully authorised to refuse or to stop any unsafe work related with Tristar operations and every employee has this card in his or her possession.
Training programmes are mandatory for all drivers to ensure the culture of safety and all of them undergo class-room and on-road defensive driving training from an accredited driving school.
My reason for safety is my family
Educate drivers on the importance of their families and alszo the safety of other people while they are driving.
The simulator provides an actual animated road simulation and is also capable to create different weather disturbances such as sandstorm, fog and even rain that the drivers experience occasionally on roads. The simulator can also be used as a scientific eye-testing device to test vision and color identification capabilities with advanced parameters to measure reaction time and judgement timing.
Vehicle management and monitoring system
Monitors parameters related to safety, including driver performance, alerts for speeding, working hours monitoring, optimising fuel and tyre use and optimising customer satisfaction.
Quarterly safety meetings are conducted to keep promoting the safety culture and drivers as well as management are always refreshed with concepts and procedures related to health and safety.