With the latest oil and gas boom going strong right now, it is clear that oil and gas workers are happy with the plentiful jobs and the premium pay. That said, those who drive vehicles for oil and gas companies are quite often expected to endure a really long commute, where they are expected to work long hours. All of this has the potential to lead to more auto and truck accidents, according to industry guidance produced by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most, if not all, oil and gas drivers face difficult working conditions, including long hours awake with no breaks, monotonous road environments and long, overnight work shifts. In many cases, such workers are forced to drive long hours just to get to work and are then required to work shifts that can exceed 16 hours. For oil and gas workers who work long hours and have huge commutes to and from work, it is important to be aware of signs that you may be too tired to drive safely. Regardless of the warning signs you are aware of, whether you are yawning constantly, your eyelids feel heavy, or there are even worse signs, like drifting into another lane or forgetting the last few miles driven, it’s important to keep everyone on the road safer by pulling over safely, or by not driving in the first place.
Why is the Risk So High
Fatigued/drowsy driving is a major cause of crashes in the oil and gas industry and it is linked to a number of factors, including the following:
- Time of day – a person’s natural body clock, also known as their circadian rhythm, provides you body with signals that it should sleep at night and it could also lead to a temporary dip in alertness in the afternoon.
- Monotonous tasks – These can also lead to excessive drowsiness. Likewise, driving for extended periods of time with few changes in routine can increase the risk of fatigue or inattentive driving.
- Extended awake time – the more hours you are awake, the more likely you will find yourself fatigued. This is true whether you are driving as part of your job, or the combination of a long commute and driving for work requires you to be awake for extended hours, it can lead to fatigue, and that fatigue can lead to a driving impairment that is similar to the type of alcohol impairment that leads to DWI. If you fail to get enough sleep for many days in a row, you can also suffer impairment.
- Medications and chronic health conditions – All sorts of illnesses, diseases, and some of the medications you take have the potential to interfere with your alertness, thus increasing the risk of fatigued driving.
The Reality of Drowsy/Fatigued Driving
The CDC Guidance discusses a real situation in which three oil and gas workers, at the end of a 20-hour work shift at about midnight, and could find n sleeping quarters nearby, so they began a 10-hour drive home. They had gone just 25 miles when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and their vehicle failed to negotiate a curve and rolled several times. Because none of the workers were wearing a seatbelt, all of them were ejected from the vehicle and two of the three died.
How Can Oil and Gas Workers to Stay Awake and Safe Behind the Wheel
- The first and most obvious thing oil and gas workers can do is to get enough sleep. That means 7-9 hours of deep sleep in a space that is dark, comfortable and quiet. If you have to, let friends and family know you need to get enough sleep and encourage them to help with that.
- If you have a long commute to get to work, travel the day before and give yourself time to sleep before you have to start work.
- At your worksite, use extended wait times as an excuse to catch a nap when available. Make sure you have a restful environment to do so; use earplugs, eye masks, and other such devices if you have to.
- Employers should have policies in place regarding fatigue management and they should take a pro-active approach to planning travel for workers. They should also follow all hours-of-service regulations and requirements. For their part, workers should also plan trips ahead of time and plan rest breaks at safe places and plan to get nutritious food.
- Let others know where you will be and when and check in with them regularly.
- Use stop work authority at any time you feel it is unsafe to continue to drive.
- If you believe a co-worker is too tired to drive, don’t hesitate to intervene.
- If you feel too tired to drive, but you have to continue to do so for a while, pull over to a rest stop or other safe space, drink a cup of coffee and take a 15-20 minute power nap before continuing on.
Always remember, there is no substitute for sleep. Coffee can help a little, and rolling down the window and turning up the radio can help a little more, but nothing short of sleep will prevent you from becoming drowsy at the wrong time.