SINGAPORE: For 17 years, Nasir Nong, 46, starts his shift as early as 6am and ends as late as 8pm, working on average 12 to 14 hours per day, up to 6-and-a-half days a week.
The trailer truck driver’s biggest challenge is to stay alert during the monotonous task, while travelling at a steady 50 to 60 kmph.
On average, the Singaporean driver makes seven to eight trips per shift, earning around S$3,000 to S$4,000 a month, depending on the distance and number of trips made.
On Friday (Nov 3), for instance he earned S$105 for five trips made between 8am and 3pm.
Apart from three hour-long breaks for meals, he gets some shut-eye during the 10 to 15 minutes in between returning and collecting containers. In an attempt to freshen up, he occasionally uses the spare time to wash his face in a restroom at his destination.
During such trips, finding a proper place to park these trucks to rest is a hassle as they can be as long as 45 feet and carry loads as heavy as 30 tonnes.
Maneuvering it in busy local traffic is understandably a daunting task and Mr Nasir tries to get at least six to seven hours of sleep every night to ensure he has the required stamina for the long drives, which can sometimes stretch from Tuas, where his office is located, to as far as Changi.
“If I’m tired or sleepy, I have to find a proper place not blocking other users, to take a five to ten minute rest … When I drive, and if there are e-bikes or bicycles on the road, I have to give way and try to avoid them,” he said.
FATAL ACCIDENTS, TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS ON THE RISE
Police statistics released in June showed that there were more fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles between January and June this year with 19 cases recorded, up from the 16 reported in the same period in 2016.
Fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles, including prime movers, buses and tipper trucks, also rose by more than 20 per cent, to 41 cases last year, when three in 10 fatal accidents involved a heavy vehicle.
On Saturday, a 78-year-old cyclist was killed in an accident involving a tipper truck. The 64-year-old truck driver was arrested for causing death by negligent act.
Last October, Ang Yee Fong, 25, and Ong Zi Quan, 18, died after they were hit by a trailer truck while riding their e-bikes along West Coast Highway at night. The third e-biker, Marcus Loke Teck Soon, who was then 17, suffered from leg injuries. One year later, the coroner ruled that it was highly plausible that the truck driver had fallen asleep while on the road.
Police investigations are ongoing in both cases.
Traffic violations committed by heavy vehicles also rose 13.3 per cent from 16,413 in 2015 to 18,591 in 2016. The top three violations were speeding, failing to keep left on the expressway and using mobile communications devices while driving.
Traffic accidents have also been identified as the top cause of workplace fatalities between 2013 and last year, claiming 82 lives.
STRONGER PUSH FOR SAFETY
In its push to improve workplace safety and health, the Government announced in September that it has set aside a S$2 million research fund that companies can tap into.
Spearheaded by Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the Workplace Safety and Health Tech Challenge will help to pay for research into solutions to address main causes of fatal traffic accidents at work, including driver fatigue and unsafe driving practices, such as using of hand-phones behind the wheels.
Bok Seng Logistics, where Mr Nasir has been working since 2011, is one of the companies recently ramping efforts in employing technologies to ensure their drivers’ safety, and in turn, the public’s welfare.
This year, Bok Seng Logistics has spent more than S$200,000 on safety gadgets for their fleet of heavy vehicles. The logistics company currently owns 81 heavy vehicles and has 81 drivers, including Mr Nasir.
In a joint effort with MOM that started in January, the company spent around S$40,000 on fitting ten of their trucks with fatigue management devices.
A fatigue management device is typically fitted on a dashboard camera and will be able to detect the driver's eye movements. Any anomalies, such as closing one’s eyes for more than five seconds, instantaneously trigger the driver’s seat to vibrate as well as send email notifications to relevant supervisors. Upon a second email, a call will be made to the truck driver via a call centre based in Australia to check on his condition.
A new driver may then be diverted to take over, if the situation calls for it, said Steven Tan, 42, senior manager of Health and Safety, Bok Seng Logistics.
“When I feel sleepy, the device detects my eyes, the seat vibrates and I will be (alert),” said Mr Nasir.
In just six months, Mr Tan said the company saw a 33 per cent drop in cases of driver fatigue. It has also been effective in keeping their drivers more focused on the roads, as cases of drivers using their hand-phones while driving fell by 87 per cent, he added.
MONETARY INCENTIVES, OTHER TECHNOLOGIES
Besides investing in technology to improve vehicle safety, some companies like Samwoh Corporation are also using monetary incentives to encourage drivers to stay safe on the roads.
This year, the logistics and transport firm which employs around 200 drivers, started rolling out monthly monetary safety incentives where drivers get an extra S$100 - if they stay accident-free or are deemed not at fault if they are involved in an accident that month.
Samwoh Corporation’s drivers, like 28-year-old Singaporean Muhammad Hariz Abdullah, who works an average of 10 hours daily, are paid per trip and per hour while they are on stand-by for jobs.
In 2015, the company worked with the traffic police to create yellow “blind spot stickers” to be pasted on the sides of heavy vehicles. The stickers, which cost S$200 each, are pasted on the company’s entire fleet.
Apart from monetary incentives, Samwoh Corporation has partnered up with MOM, as part of the WSH Tech Challenge, to provide “a test bed” for new safety technologies. The company is also pilot-testing two trucks that have built-in motion-sensing devices, which detects and warn drivers of obstacles in other lanes.
“If the trucks are too near some obstacles, they are able to alert the drivers. Of course, we are now in the phase of monitoring the effectiveness of these trucks, and if they are found to be useful, we will consider to roll them out,” said Seah Koh Hua, 56, senior manager, Workplace Safety and Health at Samwoh Corporation.
National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng, 50, feels more fleet owners in Singapore should invest in and “borrow the advantages” of such safety technologies to help reduce accidents involving heavy vehicles.
Installations of such safety devices, such as fatigue management ones, are also common and mandatory in countries like the US, where drivers are typically paired together to take turns at driving.
More critically, however, there should be “very specific” regulations regarding the working hours for truck drivers. One way to prevent drivers from overworking is to implement a driver registry system, said Prof Lee.
“Before they turn on the engine, they have to register their employee number and fingerprint, so only the registered driver can activate the vehicle. This can prevent them (from overworking) … (The devices) will monitor the number of hours they have been working,” he added.