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Information for drivers

Under the Northern Territory Workplace Health and Safety Act all transport operators have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy working environment for employees, and others who may be put at risk. Drivers also have a key role to play in the management of their fatigue.

This page provides information about fatigue and the need to manage fatigue within the commercial road transport industry.


Code of Practice

In 1998 the Northern Territory introduced a Fatigue Management Code of Practice. This code focuses on safe outcomes as a result of appropriate risk assessment, appropriate rest times, and driver health best practice.

The responsibility for the management of fatigue rests with all members of the commercial road transport industry. Those further along the chain, such as freight forwarders and receivers, also have a responsibility.

Diagram of fatigue management and a list of those with a responsibility

Figure 1:
Responsibility for fatigue management
rests with all links in the transport chain

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What is fatigue?

  • Fatigue can be defined as a loss of alertness which eventually ends in sleep.
  • Fatigue can lead to poor judgment, slower reaction time and decreased skill, such as in vehicle control, thus increasing the risk of crashes.
  • Fatigue can result from long or arduous work, little or poor quality sleep, and the time of day when the work is performed and sleep obtained. It can be influenced by health and emotional issues, or by several of these factors in combination.
  • Fatigue also impairs the driver's judgement of his or her own state of fatigue - therefore, the effective management of fatigue should not be the responsibility of the driver alone.

Diagram of Factors contributing to driver fatigue

Figure 2:
Factors contributing to driver fatigue

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The body clock

Human beings are day orientated, designed to work in the daytime and sleep at night.

Crash risk increases when the driver is driving at times when he or she would normally be asleep. There is also an increased crash risk during the mid-afternoon "siesta" hours.

Work practices may disrupt eating and sleeping routines and affect a driver's body rhythms or body clock, leading to cumulative or banked fatigue. Once a driver reaches this level of fatigue, the only solution is sufficient good quality sleep.


We all have an irresistible need to sleep, and the urge to sleep is greatest during the night and early morning. However, people differ in both the amount of sleep they need and their tolerance levels to a lack of sleep.

As a general guide, six hours sleep a night is regarded as a minimum. The most beneficial sleep is one taken in a single continuous period.

Poor sleep, or a small amount of sleep over several days, leads to severe sleep debt and the irresistible urge to sleep - thus increasing the risk of falling asleep at the wheel and crashing.

Stimulant drugs may reduce the likelihood of falling asleep when drowsy, but they don't reduce the need for sleep. Sleep which is delayed by drugs will need to be made up later.

People who experience excessive sleepiness during the day, despite adequate sleep at night, may suffer from a medical condition and should seek medical advice.

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How to identify fatigue

Fatigue indicators include:

  • not feeling refreshed after sleep;
  • a greater tendency to fall asleep while at work;
  • more frequent naps during leisure hours;
  • feelings of weariness or sleepiness;
  • extended sleep during days off; and
  • increased errors and loss of concentration.

The following warning signs will tell you your body is sleepy:

  • a drowsy, relaxed feeling;
  • blurred vision;
  • difficulty keeping your eyes open;
  • head nodding;
  • excessive yawning; and
  • drifting in and out of your lane.

These warning signs should not be ignored. People have a limited ability to predict the onset of sleep, and by continuing to drive when sleepy they put themselves and others at risk.

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Guiding principles

The guiding principles for fatigue management include, but are not limited to, the following:

A driver must be in a fit state to undertake the task

  • drivers should be given appropriate time to plan and prepare for a working period involving long shifts;
  • a driver must present in a fit state for work and must be free from alcohol and drugs;
  • drivers need to be adequately rested prior to commencing duty;
  • unfamiliar or irregular work rosters should be avoided;
  • night operations need to take into account increased crash rates due to fatigue between 1am and 6am;
  • drivers should be medically fit and should have regular assessments by medical practitioners;
  • drivers should have access to lifestyle information and, where necessary, counselling to assist in presenting in a fit state for work.

Drivers must be fit to complete the task

  • schedules should be flexible to allow drivers to rest or take short breaks when required;
  • rosters and schedules, where possible, should be sufficiently flexible to take into account the rest habits and needs of individual drivers;
  • when drivers return from leave, night time schedules should be minimised;
  • information and assistance should be provided to promote management of driver health;
  • appropriate accommodation or sleeper berths should be provided if drivers need to sleep or rest during a trip;
  • air-conditioned vehicles should be provided where possible, and seating and sleeping accommodation should meet Australian Standards.

Drivers and minimum periods of rest

  • drivers need to take two periods each of at least 24 hours rest in a 14 day period;
  • drivers need to take at least six hours rest in any 24 hour period;

drivers need to monitor their own work performance and take regular periods of rest to avoid continuing work when tired.

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Fatigue management systems

All operators should conduct risk assessments and have in place a fatigue management system. This system should provide a framework for minimising and controlling risk factors associated with the operation.

A package of materials to assist operators undertake risk assessments and to develop fatigue management systems is available.


Further information:

NT Road Transport Association (NTRTA)   (08) 8947 7161
NT WorkSafe   (08) 8999 5010
Department of Lands and Planning   (08) 8924 7965


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