Companies that don’t restrict how many hours their workers must put in should pay heed to three cases in Texas, England and Australia.
In the Texas case, a drilling company was found liable for an employee’s fatigue-related motor vehicle wreck that claimed four people’s lives. The driver, Robert Ambriz, had been working on a schedule of one week of 12-hour night shifts followed by a week off and one week of 12-hour day shifts.
Ambriz had completed a particularly tiring shift because there was a rush to make repairs on a rig. While driving home in March 1998, Ambriz was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle driven by Martin Rodriguez. Ambriz and Rodriguez and three passengers in the Rodriguez vehicle all died.
Company Wasn’t Blind to Fatigue Risk
The Court of Appeals For The Thirteenth District of Texas found that Ambriz’s employer, Nabors Drilling, was aware of the risks of fatigue but did not develop and implement a fatigue risk management system. The court upheld a jury award compensating families of the victims.
The appeals court ruled that Nabors Drilling had breached its duty by failing to act as a reasonably prudent employer. Employers received no training or safety talks regarding the dangers of fatigue and the company did not assess employees’ fitness to drive home following their long shifts.
The court found that Nabors knew that Ambriz was fatigued prior to driving away from the worksite, yet did nothing to stop him.
Insane Work Schedule Blamed For Worker’s Death
In England, a company called The Produce Connection was fined the equivalent of $58,000 US ($68,000 CAD) after one of its workers fell asleep at the wheel and died after his vehicle crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer. He had worked for 11 straight days prior to the collision, including four 19-hour days in the previous four days.
Evidence was presented to suggest other company employees were working similarly long hours. Cambridge Crown Court found the company had breached health and safety legislation by failing to monitor the hours its employees were working. Since employees were paid by the hour, the payroll department and company managers could not be unaware of the hours that its employees were working.
Fatigued Driver Smokes Pot, Then Smokes Vehicles
In a similar case in Australia, a trucking company was fined the equivalent of $93,000 US ($110,000 CAD) for allowing a fatigued driver to exceed legal driving limits. The driver, who had been behind the wheel for as long as 24 straight hours and had also smoked marijuana, caused four deaths.
The truck he was driving slammed into several vehicles that were stopped in traffic on a highway. The truck driver, who was not killed, was sentenced to 6.5 years in jail. Shepperton County Court was told the trucking company now offers driver fatigue management courses.
These three cases highlight the importance of managing fatigue in the workplace. If your company or organization does not have a fatigue management system in place – and implement it – you could face serious legal and financial consequences if a worker falls asleep at the wheel and kills or injures others.
Supervisors and senior managers need to recognize the symptoms of fatigue among workers and take steps to control it.